Just as Mets fans are preparing for the arrival of prized pitching prospect Zack Wheeler, they received a timely reminder Tuesday night of how they acquired him.
Carlos Beltran, the man the Mets traded to the San Francisco Giants at the deadline two years ago for Wheeler, returned to Citi Field with the St. Louis Cardinals.
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Beltran, 36, smiled when asked whether he's aware that Mets fans are eagerly awaiting the debut of Wheeler, who is expected to make his first major-league start Tuesday in Atlanta.
"I know that he got traded for me," Beltran said, "but I'm more into my own business."
For Beltran, discussing the Mets these days is not the least bit tempting, considering that's in his past. "No idea, my friend, about what's going on on the other side," he said. His present is a far more uplifting subject for him.
The former Mets centerfielder has thrived since he left in the trade for Wheeler, performing well enough with the Giants in the second half of the 2011 season (.920 OPS in 44 games) to receive a two-year, $26-million contract with the Cardinals. And Beltran has lived up to that deal.
Beltran hit 32 home runs and drove in 97 runs last year and he has continued on a similar pace this season. He has 14 homers to go along with his .305 average and a .523 slugging percentage.
By the end of his seven years with the Mets, his surgically repaired knees had become such an issue that his availability was a daily question. But those issues also apparently are in the past; he's proved as durable as ever during his time with the Giants and Cardinals.
"For me, I've been healthy, man," said Beltran, who played in 151 games last season. "I've been playing, for the most part, working hard and things just started working for me."
Beltran didn't play Tuesday night, though health wasn't the reason.
The Cardinals gave him some extra rest after he spent Monday in his native Puerto Rico for a ceremony honoring the first graduating class of his baseball academy, which has been his off-field passion since he signed a seven-year, $119-million deal with the Mets in 2005.
The Mets have been one of the academy's biggest benefactors, according to Beltran's foundation tax returns.
And even though two years have passed since he left, Beltran still has ties to New York. He said he owns an apartment in the city and spends time there during the baseball offseason. (He also still owns a home in Sands Point that he's had on the market for more than a year.)
But for now, St. Louis is his baseball home, and he said he's having a blast playing for an organization that seems to always make the right decisions -- including betting on this veteran.
"I think baseball is first, baseball's second and baseball's third [in St. Louis]," he said. "We're winning, so it's a great environment. When you're losing, there's always something going on."
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