In my son Jackson's first season of Little League, he played on the Mets.
"Who do they have that's good?" he asked. Not quite prepared for that question, I paused for a moment and said, "Carlos Beltran."
At the time, I suggested Beltran based upon both his versatility as a player and his consistency as a person. Five years later and now a St. Louis Cardinal, he remains Jackson's favorite player. There simply isn't a more humble superstar in all of professional sports.
But this season, after battling knee injuries for years, Beltran is making his own unique assault on the baseball record books quieter than perhaps any player in MLB history. He is the ultimate five-tool player.
In 2012, Beltran became one of only five players in baseball history to amass 300 home runs, 300 stolen bases and 2,000 hits. And he is the only player in history to accomplish this feat hitting from both sides of the plate.
When you put that alongside two Silver Slugger Awards, three Gold Gloves, seven All-Star game appearances, the most home runs in a single postseason and a lifetime .285 average, you have an incredibly strong case for the Hall of Fame.
The fact that this rare achievement has gone virtually unnoticed even in America's greatest baseball city is just Beltran's style. Soft-spoken and respectful, a Beltran interview is filled with "I just want to help the team..." and "I am grateful for the opportunities..." Except, the difference with Beltran is that you get the sense he really means it.
He has been this way since the day he entered the league as a stylish, young center fielder with the Royals, and he has conducted himself with similar grace through the professional highs and the lows. He exuded the same class while smashing eight postseason home runs for the Astros as he did when taking a called strike to conclude the Mets best playoff run in years.
There aren't many people who can genuinely say that fame and success never changed them, but Beltran appears to be a member of that select group.
For all of the excitement Beltran has created at the plate, on the bases and tracking down balls in the outfield, it is off the field where his legacy will ultimately have the greatest impact. A longtime supporter of the non-profit Harlem RBI, he established The Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy in 2008.
The academy will provide unique opportunities for kids in his native Puerto Rico to have the opportunity to succeed on and off the field for years to come. Beltran has leveraged his celebrity and taken his philanthropy seriously in an effort to help others.
Sometimes I look back to that moment when my son asked me who was good on the Mets. At the time, I was a fan of Beltran’s sweet swing and those dazzling catches roaming the outfield grass. I had always thought Beltran was a class act, but I knew that it was dangerous to make any professional athlete your hero. I learned this first hand as a Steve Garvey fan growing up.
Luckily for me, Jackson and most of all baseball, Beltran has not disappointed. Although he will likely leave the game one day as unassumingly as he entered it, let's hope Cooperstown takes notice. Because by the time he is eligible, they may likely be in need of a few good men.