Carlos Beltran spoke at Mets spring training in Port St. Lucie on Wednesday about his new position as special assistant to the general manager. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — It was a bit jarring to see Carlos Beltran fully outfitted in Mets’ colors Wednesday at Clover Park.

Blue cap. Orange golf shirt. Leaning against the dugout rail as players ran through drills on the stadium field.

Talk about truth being stranger than fiction. The same guy who was fired as the Mets manager after serving in that role for a total of 77 days in 2020 — before even making it down to Port St. Lucie for spring training — was back at the scene of the crime, as if he just climbed out of his own chalk outline.

We weren’t the only ones surprised. When I asked Beltran if he ever thought he’d return to work for the Mets, he replied with zero hesitation.

“No chance,” Beltran said.

A few years ago, we could say that about the other 29 teams as well. Beltran was made a pariah by commissioner Rob Manfred, who chose to single him out as the only Astros player on the 2017 team mentioned by name when the results of MLB’s sign-stealing investigation were released to the public.

Manfred’s punishment may have been limited to the staffers —- with GM Jeff Luhnow, manager AJ Hinch and bench coach Alex Cora all receiving one-year suspensions — but Beltran, who retired at the end of that 2017 season, was maybe dealt the harshest sentence: stripped of his dream job by the Mets.

Carlos Beltran returned to the Mets spring training this week to begin his new front-office job. NewsdayTV's Tim Healey reports.  Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

The decision was portrayed as mutual. That wasn’t entirely true. Beltran fought to stay, but the Wilpons — correctly, we might add — ultimately came to the conclusion that there was no way the disgraced Astro, portrayed as the scandal’s ringleader, could wear the Mets uniform so soon.

And that figured to be that. Beltran’s playing career in Flushing ended when GM Sandy Alderson traded him to the Giants in 2011, but there remained talk of him someday wearing a Mets cap into Cooperstown, based on his five All-Star seasons with the franchise. Returning as manager was a triumphant moment, as Beltran’s icy relations with the Wilpons — stemming from conflicts of opinion on medical issues — defrosted amid the smiling photo ops at Citi Field.

That was the last time we had witnessed Beltran happy in a Mets cap. Until Wednesday, when he was clearly thrilled to have his shoes in the dirt again, hanging around the batting cage, talking hitting mechanics with Francisco Lindor. Beltran’s three-year exile from the game was somewhat self-imposed, as he refused to entertain on-field offers and basically didn’t set foot in a stadium until taking an analyst job with the YES Network last season.

We won’t grade Beltran’s YES performance. Suffice to say, he doesn’t belong in a TV booth. He’s too valuable to a team like the Mets, who can greatly benefit from his superior baseball IQ, either helping with the big-league club or getting sent on special scouting missions at the lower levels. Lindor mentioned the importance of having a former player in the front office, and it’s only a matter of time before he winds up in uniform again, either as a coach or manager, two roles he didn’t rule out for the future.

Now that he’s got this title, special assistant to the GM, anything’s possible. Beltran credited the YES gig as being a bridge to his Flushing return, but it took more than a microphone to create this career-changing opportunity. Beltran wouldn’t be here without Steve Cohen buying out the Wilpons or if the front office hadn’t flipped over since 2020.

As for Beltran’s unofficial banishment from the sport, that had gone on long enough. The Tigers hired Hinch at the end of the 2020 season and the Red Sox gave Cora a Second Act a few weeks later — almost immediately after their suspensions were up. Beltran remained on the outside, and Wednesday’s scene was long overdue.

“In life, a lot of times when you’re going through a big storm, you think that storm will never pass,” Beltran said. “But it will pass, and time heals.”

The dark clouds above Beltran are starting to clear. This doesn’t excuse him for cheating with the Astros. That’s on his permanent resume. But he’s done his penance, and the bet here is that his day in Cooperstown won’t be far behind. To me, Beltran was a slam dunk this first year on his Hall of Fame ballot, but he received only 46.5% of the votes, well below the 75% required for induction.

Knowing how some members of the BBWAA electorate have operated in recent years with PED offenders, some have probably slotted Beltran in a one-year penalty box, denying him that first-ballot honor to atone for his Astros sins. That’s ridiculous, in my opinion, but I’d expect to see a significant jump in the next year or two.

“I feel OK with it,” Beltran said. “I went though a moment in my career that was tough. I also know that I had some fans and now I don’t have those fans anymore. But the end of the day, I have to live with my life. I have to move on. I have to continue to find positive in the negative and do what I love . . . The Hall of Fame, it would be amazing if I can get there. But if I cannot get there, I feel proud of my career.”

If Beltran can be back with the Mets, as he was standing in that dugout Wednesday, then anything’s possible.

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