Anyone who has read anything I have written on here, knows that I started attending Texas Ranger games in 1974. That means I have had a lot of favorite players over the years. But none have ever stuck out as my all time favorite. That is until 2011.
In the 70’s I had a lot. I was also between the ages of seven and thirteen and my mind changed a lot. At certain points during that span my favorite players included, Jim Fregosi, Jeff Burrows, Mike Hargrove, Fergie Jenkins and Jim Sunberg.
Then the 80’s came. Al Oliver was a favorite of mine at first. He was promptly replaced by Buddy Bell who broke my heart. At a double header one time, my father said if Bell hit a HR we would stay and watch the second game. Buddy flied out to deep left center field. I buried my head in my hands while dad was packing up our stuff. Believe it or not, Buechele became a favorite of mine. I went on this weird streak of calling his shots. I think over a month long period, I would periodically call his shot and he seemed to always deliver. The best was sitting in left field with my brother and a cold beer in my hand. I leaned over as Buechele stepped to the plate and Clemens was pitching. It was short and simple. “Boo is gonna hit this next pitch out!” Next pitch, CRACK! My brother will not stop talking about that. Especially since I just sipped my beer with no emotion as he circled the bases. Inside I was doing back flips.
The 90’s brought me Pudge, Juan and Palmerio. But they were second fiddle to Nolan. I was in the same left field stands for his seventh no hitter. That is a memory I can ever forget. Nolan was my favorite for a long time. His only competition was Rusty Greer. When the new ballpark opened I saw the first HR in that stadium by a Ranger. It wasn’t Will Clark. He hit the first one that counted on opening day. (I saw that one also) In the exhibition game the day before, Greer hit one to center field. I had no clue who he was. I found out later that year he was a true gamer. Rusty reported to AAA the next day and was called up in May. At opening day last year, I met Rusty and we sat and talked about that day. He remembered it well and was impressed that someone remembered a pre season HR. So yeah, he was one of my favorites.
But none of them compared to the captain. The winter between 2010 and 2011 I was fixated on the Rangers bringing back Cliff Lee. Lee was amazing during the playoff run and getting him to return was a priority in my opinion. Rangers new owner Chuck Greenberg, flew out to Lee’s Louisiana home to convince him that Arlington was where he needed to be. Lee however took less money and years to return to Philadelphia. The biggest free agent that year was Adrian Beltre. It was believed that he was going to sign with the Angels. He loved the area and came up with the Dodgers. I hated Beltre!!! Not because he was a jerk or clubhouse cancer. I hated Beltre because he was always the guy who got the winning hit for the Mariners against the Rangers. Before there was Kyle Seager, there was Adrian Beltre. Beltre however, had just finished a run with the Red Sox and was a big ticket free agent that offseason. Nobody saw him coming to Texas. Michael Young had moved to third base the year before, when Elvis Andrus made the big league team. Signing Beltre would mean asking Young to move again. When Young heard the Rangers were interested, he immediately said yes to moving to first. (Which is why HE was my favorite player at the time.) Welcome to Texas Adrian!
Adrian Beltre immediately became an impact player. He also became a fixture in the community. He would quietly do things for those in need, and he never sought out recognition. He took Andrus under his wing and groomed him to be a leader. More importantly he did something that no other player had ever done to my recollection. He showed that he was having fun playing baseball. Even his scowl was humorous. You could tell he was putting on a game face, to hide the grin he wanted to show. His antics with Elvis were reminiscing of Abbot and Costello. Belts was always the straight guy to the shenanigans of the goofball kid Elvis. If you didn’t love Adrian’s reaction to having his head touched, then you might be in the Taliban. All of that was behind my favorite trait of Beltre. He was a gamer. He would have to be talked into sitting when injured. In the day and age of prima donna athletes, Adrian Beltre felt his team would suffer if he didn’t at least try and contribute. You have to love guy who wants to play that bad.
Adrian Beltre proved he was the most unselfish at the end of his career. Texas had made it known, that they would move Adrian to any contender he wanted at the trade deadline. I think Danielas would have taken a bag of balls in return, if Beltre wanted to make a run with a certain team. But Adrian refused to go anywhere, if the Rangers didn’t at least get something of value in return. I am paraphrasing here. But his quote was,”I can’t let a team that was so good to me, get nothing of value in return.” So he never was moved and he played out the season with the Rangers. He alluded to retiring by opening up and telling stories he had never told to reporters. His relationship with Emily Jones was endearing to the public. His announcement that he was retiring was just as selfless. No press conference or big deal. Just a sweet message that thanked everyone along the way. Especially the Rangers and of course the fans. The fans who he said were the best in baseball. Classy as ever. He went out the way he wanted. He is now a full time dad and no doubt a part of the organization when he is ready.
There is no other way to say it. He was my favorite Ranger player of all time. As a dad, I am so happy for him. As a fan, I am heart broken. So I will end with a lump in my throat and personal message.
Thank you Belts. You put far more smiles on my face than any other player in MLB history. It will be hard to watch a game without you somewhere lurking. Enjoy the rest of your life and I will pray good thing for you moving forward. I feel saying thanks isn’t enough. But I know that is all you would ever need. So once again…….. Thanks!
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