While Mets fans may be giving thanks this year for the new regime at Citi Field, New York’s RBI players are grateful for one Met in particular — Carlos Beltran.
The 33-year-old center fielder has volunteered quietly during his Mets career with MLB’s program, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI), which focuses on baseball fundamentals, academics (including tutoring and SAT prep) and peer mentoring.
Beltran concentrates his efforts on RBI’s Harlem location, which is one of nine RBI chapters throughout the city.
“He’s a terrific guy,” said Richard Berlin, Harlem RBI’s Executive Director. “Carlos Beltran’s involvement with Harlem RBI over the past five years has been nothing short of extraordinary. As an ambassador, a donor and most importantly as a role model for kids, Carlos has really stepped up to the plate.
“Through the ‘RBIs for Harlem RBI’ program, Carlos has donated over $250,000 [he donates $500 for each RBI he drives in]. He also makes a point of spending time with our youth every year, both at our field in East Harlem and by hosting a baseball clinic for our youth at Citi Field,” Berlin added.
For many of the urban youth in RBI, the program provides a crucial alternative to gangs and the streets.
In May 2008, amNewYork profiled Sergio Cruz, a talented then-18-year-old outfielder for Kips Bay RBI in the Bronx. An MLB scout read the story, which led to tryouts and a baseball scholarship for Cruz. Now a sophomore at Clackamas Community College in Oregon City, Oregon, Cruz is refining his skills with a wooden bat and becoming a serious draft prospect.
Cruz came from a tough background, in which RBI served as a lifeline, and he has flourished under the renowned coaching of Clackamas’ baseball program.
Cruz “is an outstanding player at this level and will play at a higher level,” said Clackamas coach Robin Robinson, in his 21st season. “He has scouts ask about him often because Sergio has speed, arm strength and can hit.”
Cruz, who played in an All-Star game this fall, “has worked very hard for these opportunities,” Robinson said.
“When I started RBI, one of the first things our coaches made clear to us was to take our education seriously,” said Cruz. “The coaching staff at Clackamas has expanded on what RBI started, improving my playing skills, along with putting me in a position to succeed.”
The success stories Beltran witnessed at RBI inspired him to build a baseball academy in Puerto Rico; he has contributed $2 million. Mets teammates Jose Reyes and Angel Pagan visited for an academy fundraiser on the island earlier this month along with Sandy Alderson. The new Mets general manager met with Beltran before attending the GM Meetings in Orlando, Fla. last week.
Beltran was among the Mets’ disappointments in 2010 despite a valiant comeback from February surgery on his right knee. When the three-time Gold Glover entered the Mets lineup on July 15, he struggled with formerly routine defensive plays in center, where he was outplayed by Angel Pagan. Beltran recently stated that he would consider moving to right field or waiving his no-trade clause. However, entering the final year of his seven-year contract, he added that hopes to end his career as a Met. Much will depend on the plans of Alderson and new manager Terry Collins.
Via email, we asked Beltran about his charity work, his health, his thoughts on Alderson (whose father, John, was struck by a car and killed this month) and about giving thanks.
What can you tell us about last weekend, when Reyes, Pagan and Alderson visited you in Puerto Rico?
It was great to get the support from my teammates and from Mr. Alderson. This cause is so dear to me and I am so thankful they came down to Puerto Rico. I am so sad about what happened to Mr. Alderson’s father. I called him the next day to say how sorry I was.
What was your impression of Alderson and how do you think he’ll be viewed in the clubhouse?
He has a great reputation in the business. I feel badly for [former manager] Omar [Minaya] because he was the one who signed me for the Mets. But that’s baseball. I think all the players I spoke to have nothing but respect for Sandy. I know he will get us headed in the right direction.
Why did you decide to build your new academy?
When I came to the United States in 1995, I was an 18-year-old rookie with Kansas City. I didn’t speak very much English and it was hard for me to order food, get my clothes cleaned or just get around town. I decided that the [Carlos Beltran Baseball] Academy would help young kids either prepare for a career in pro ball or a career in college. The academy will open August 2011.
Why did you choose RBI and its Harlem chapter as your main charity?
I do clinics for Harlem RBI during the year and we bring kids to the ballpark all the time. I even left Harlem RBI kids tickets for the All-Star games and World Series. I just like to help kids and Harlem RBI does wonderful work with deserving young people.
What are your thoughts on RBI stories such as Sergio Cruz?
It makes me feel good inside. Any time you can help a deserving young person, it’s a great thing. I am glad he got the help. I hope he gets signed and goes on to a long career.
How is your knee and what’s your offseason training regimen?
I have no pain at all now. I just have to keep working on my lower body; I will start really training hard on Dec. 1. The doctors say I am 100 percent [better] this year than I was a year ago. I am excited about next year.
What are your family’s Thanksgiving traditions?
I just plan to have a quiet dinner with my family at home. Nothing special.