Amidst the wreckage of the Texas Rangers’ 2014 season – one going down the tubes so quickly it seems as if the team is riding on a water slide with lathered extra grease – Adrian Beltre is recording perhaps the best all-around season of his long career.
Texas’ third baseman is headed to the All-Star game, an event most of his teammates will be watching on television, as a beacon of the good old days in Arlington, Texas when the team was contending for first place in the American League West, not last.
After 78 games, Beltre was batting .341, an average that leads the American League. With rare exceptions over his 17-year big-league career the native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, has not been a high average swinger. He has been a Gold Glove fielder four times, and in 2004 he led the National League with 48 homers.
Like a fine wine
But apparently, the older he gets the more selective Beltre gets at the plate. The right-handed hitting Beltre did bat .334 in 2004, but his average dropped to .255 the next season and stayed in the middling .200s for five full seasons. Then, all of a sudden, Beltre experienced a hitting resurgence, batting .321 for the Boston Red Sox in 2010 when he was named to his first All-Star squad.
Since then Beltre has batted .296, .321, and .315. Now 35, Beltre is hitting better than ever. Over the years he has also hit for power and going into Friday’s play had 389 career home runs (he has 11 20-homer seasons on his resume). Beltre has also driven in 100 or more runs four times.
Production still improving
At an age point where most players tend to start fading, Beltre’s production is still on an upswing. In career tracking he is closer to Roger Clemens than to Albert Pujols, though let’s leave aside the entire question of performance-enhancing drugs, the issue that has recently tarnished Clemens’ reputation.
The evolution of Beltre’s game has been a marvel to watch. He was a 19-year-old rookie and after more than 2,300 games and nearly 10,000 plate appearances, he seems to be as strong as ever and benefited from his experience. It is a lot to ask of Beltre for him to even hold his first-half 2014 pace since it would provide him with a batting title and the finest average of his career, but it is certainly not impossible.
Staying healthy is critical to any type of sports longevity and that is especially important once an athlete reaches his mid-30s. It becomes more difficult to recover from aches and pains. If the 5-foot-11, 220-pound Beltre remains in fighting trim and can apply his hard-earned knowledge, he can maintain this level of play for a couple of more years.
However, the future is the future. Right now the present is pretty hot.
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