Richard Justice

Quiet star Beltre driven by World Series aspirations

Justice: Beltre driven by World Series aspirations

Quiet star Beltre driven by World Series aspirations
After Rangers reliever Robbie Ross showed up a few minutes late one day recently, he found his clothes cut into little pieces.

That was third baseman Adrian Beltre's way of letting the rookie know he'd messed up and that someone had noticed.

And there was another rookie, reliever Tanner Scheppers, who walked by Beltre without speaking the other day.

Beltre playfully poked Scheppers.

"You don't talk to me?" Beltre asked.

Beltre was letting the rookie know that he indeed was part of the team, that it was OK to loosen up a bit.

Sometimes, the best players are the ones we barely notice. That's how it is with Beltre. He does everything so smoothly and so efficiently that he's easy to take for granted. That's why it was so unusual to see him in the spotlight Wednesday night after hitting those three home runs in a victory over the Orioles.

Inside the Rangers' clubhouse, it's different. Among his teammates and coaches, Beltre's a huge presence.

"This is almost his team," said Don Welke, a senior special assistant to Rangers general manager Jon Daniels.

Of the many smart moves Daniels has made, few of them have worked out better than the eye-raising five-year, $80 million contract he gave Beltre after the 2010 season.

"We knew he was good, but he may be even better than expected," Daniels wrote in an e-mail. "He's just so consistent. And the energy he brings day in, day out -- the intensity -- it's contagious."

Welke, who has known Beltre since 1999, when both were with the Dodgers, was instrumental in getting the deal done. While Daniels could project the numbers Beltre would put up, it was Welke who convinced the GM of the kind of man he'd be getting.

That deal was sealed during a meeting in Las Vegas that featured Daniels, Welke, manager Ron Washington, Beltre and agent Scott Boras. Washington and Beltre clicked immediately, saw themselves as kindred spirits with a common purpose.

"He wants to win so badly," Welke said of Beltre. "When I was with the Blue Jays, we brought David Winfield and Paul Molitor in there. They were at a point in their careers where they'd made a lot of money and had a lot of adulation. But they hadn't won a championship. I see Adrian as being like that."

Beltre is easy to overlook on a club that is going for its third straight American League pennant and has some larger personalities, most notably Josh Hamilton.

When fans think of the Rangers, they think of Hamilton's moon-shot home runs and shortstop Elvis Andrus' dazzling defense.

Beltre is the guy who quietly wins Gold Gloves and is on a pace for 29 home runs and 96 RBIs, never attracting much attention, never seeking any.

"He's just a workmanlike guy," Welke said. "He wants to be in the lineup, wants to win."

Among AL third basemen, Beltre is second only to Miguel Cabrera in a host of offensive categories. Defensively, he's probably headed for his fourth Gold Glove.

"He makes defense look easy," Welke said. "There aren't many guys like that."

Beltre's swing is quiet and consistent. His batting average has fallen below .300 for only four days the last three months.

He has had 10 seasons with at least 20 home runs. Only five third basemen -- Eddie Mathews (14), Mike Schmidt (13), Chipper Jones (12), Ron Santo and Graig Nettles (11) -- have had more.

Mathews, Schmidt and Santo are in the Hall of Fame, and Jones appears to be a first-ballot lock in 2017.

At 33, Beltre should have some productive seasons left in him. And there's the Rangers' pursuit of a championship.

"Believe me, that's what is driving Adrian," Welke said.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.