MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Beltre closing in on club memberships

Rangers slugger could reach 3,000 hits next year, 500 HRs in 2018

Beltre closing in on club memberships

DENVER -- Signed illegally at the age of 15 by the Dodgers out of the Dominican Republic, Adrian Beltre dreamed of one thing: to get to the big leagues.

Now, look at him.

The Rangers third baseman didn't just get to the big leagues, he has become a star, and now that his former Mariners teammate, Ichiro Suzuki, has become the 30th player in Major League history to collect 3,000 hits, the spotlight is finally ready to shine on Beltre.

He is not flamboyant. He is good -- really good.

But unlike so many superstars of recent years, he is also understated.

"I came from the Dominican [Republic] from a neighborhood where I got a shot to be a baseball player," Beltre said. "My goal was to make it to the big leagues and at least be a decent player. I accomplished that.

"It has been more than I expected from myself. Yes, I work hard. Yes, I want to be the best I can be. A championship is the only thing I am missing in my career. Everything that comes after that is a bonus. I never thought I was going to get where I am when I was 15 years old."

A bonus? At the age of 37, with two more years on his current Rangers contract, Beltre is about to be forced onto baseball's national stage. He is on pace to join Ichiro in the 3,000-hit club next year and could reach 500 home runs before the end of his current contract.

With a seventh-inning home run and a single to start the ninth inning Monday night at Coors Field, Beltre has 2,880 hits, 106 more than Albert Pujols, who is next in line among active players. Beltre also has 430 home runs, 17 of them this season. He is still a big enough offensive threat (.276, 17 HRs, 66 RBIs) that he is hitting cleanup for the AL West-leading Rangers. And his current contract is guaranteed through 2018.

Not that Beltre is keeping score.

It's not his way.

"I always just want to be the best I can be," he said. "I wanted to work harder, not to put up numbers or think about the HOF, but because I respect the game. I love the game so much. I don't see this game as a job. I see it as a game I like to play and enjoy playing and you get money for playing."

When the joy disappears, so will Beltre. He's not going to have to be told when it is time to hang up his spikes.

"Once the time comes to go home I don't think any of those milestones I might be close to are going to keep me playing baseball," he said. "If I think next year or year after that is time to go home and I need five home runs or one hit for a milestone I'm not going to keep playing. That is not my motivation."

Maybe that's why Beltre has been so much under the radar in terms of the general public.

He's good, but he doesn't need anyone to tell him that.

"His personality does not crave attention," said Rangers manager Jeff Banister. "But the offensive numbers he has should make people wake up and pay attention."

Rangers radio announcer Steve Busby, in his 45th season of being around the big leagues, beginning with a pitching career that saw him win 56 games in his first three full seasons before being sidelined by injuries, is a Beltre believer.

"Day to day, he is as good as I've seen," said Busby. "I don't think you appreciate him until you see him every day. He is not flashy, but he does stuff nobody else can do. … I don't see an end to his career. He is playing as well this year as I've seen him in a long time. His defense is every bit as good."

He has won four Gold Glove awards for defensive excellence and four Silver Slugger Awards for his offense, and he is a four-time All-Star.

"He doesn't do anything the conventional way," said Rangers bench coach Steve Buechele, a smooth-fielding infielder himself during an 11-year big league career. "His style has evolved over time. His hand-eye coordination is remarkable. He is a special player."

And he is line to move into special company on baseball's all-time lists.

Tracy Ringolsby is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.