Nine years after that first Tampa sitdown with George Steinbrenner, a chat that almost derailed his signing with the Mets, Carlos Beltran got his pinstriped jersey Friday in the Bronx. But as happy as he was to fulfill a lifelong dream of joining the Yankees, Beltran also bared some lingering animosity for the other team in town, a vitriol that should make this year's Subway Series even more compelling.
And it has nothing to do with taking that third strike from Adam Wainwright.
"The organization tried to put me as a player that was a bad apple," Beltran said. "That I was this, I was that.
"I can deal with 0-for-4s, three strikeouts and talking to you guys. I can deal with that. But when somebody is trying to hurt you in a personal way, trying to put things out there that are not me -- then we have trouble. Now it's personal.
"In that aspect, I feel hurt. But they don't only hurt me, they hurt my family, they hurt the people around me. So it's a shame."
Beltran was a perennial MVP candidate for the Mets until he was slowed by nagging knee injuries toward the end of his stay in Flushing. But the frustration about his physical condition was exacerbated by what he believed were attacks by the team's ownership.
Some were out in the open, such as Fred Wilpon's 2011 comments to The New Yorker in which he suggested that the Mets goofed by signing Beltran to that seven-year, $119-million contract based on his dominant 2004 playoff series with the Astros. "He's 65 to 70 percent of what he was," Wilpon told the magazine at the time. The principal owner also mimicked Beltran on the Wainwright pitch.
"I wasn't the only one in that statement," Beltran said of the magazine article. "Jose Reyes was there. David Wright was there. I don't know. It just wasn't right. Put it that way."
Beltran also was singled out -- along with Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo -- for missing a Mets trip to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington during a series with the Nationals. Beltran later explained that he had a conference call for his baseball academy, but the ugly episode created bitter feelings that have yet to completely evaporate. He also clashed with Mets management over his decision to have knee surgery during the 2010 offseason.
When asked if this return to New York represents a "second chance" after that sour experience with the Mets, Beltran acted surprised by the question.
"Second chance for what?" Beltran said. "That was a long time ago. I'm pretty good at turning pages. I'm pretty good at that. You have to move on in life. This is different. I did what I needed to do with the Mets and it didn't really work out. So I'm looking forward to doing well here and hopefully it will work out."
Beltran, who will turn 37 in April, was a Plan B signing for the Yankees, who moved quickly on a three-year, $45-million deal in the hours after Robinson Cano agreed to a 10-year, $240-million deal with the Mariners on Dec. 6.
Even then, Yahoo! Sports reported that Beltran got that offer only after Shin-Soo Choo turned down a seven-year, $140-million package from the Yankees that same day.
To Beltran, only the result matters, which is why he believes the Mets' failures as a team overshadowed what he did on the field there.
Beltran finished with an .869 OPS during those seven years with the Mets, averaging 21 homers and 80 RBIs. In 2006, he slugged 41 home runs, drove in 116 runs and placed fourth in the MVP voting.
"I feel like, in my career, my best numbers were with the Mets," Beltran said. "But not being able to go all the way, it just felt like nothing happened. I was successful in New York. I don't need to prove to anybody that I can be successful here."
As for the 2006 NLCS exit, Beltran knows he'll never be forgiven for taking that Wainwright curveball.
"You got to blame the guy who made the most money," he said. "That's baseball."