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Beltre wants to play

2-28-01

While his teammates practice hitting, throwing, and fielding, Adrian Beltre waits for when he is healthy enough to play with his teammates.  While Gary Sheffield complains about having no respect from the Dodgers and demands a trade, Beltre is thankful to the Dodgers for maybe saving his life. When most people would call what Beltre has been through since January 12 an experience from hell, Beltre simply says it has been an “unpleasant experience.”   This jovial twenty-one-year-old hopes he can play in the Los Angeles Dodger season opener on April 2 against the Milwaukee Brewers.  Unless Beltre gets stronger quickly, it appears highly unlikely.

On January 12 Beltre underwent an emergency appendectomy in his native Dominican Republic.  From the appendectomy, he contracted an infection. After spending a month in the hospital in both the Dominican Republic and Los Angeles, Beltre reported to Dodgertown.  He had lost twenty-four pounds. He had a drainage bag attached to his stomach and still is on a liquid diet.  The first week at Dodgertown he played catch with Dodger physical therapist Pat Screnar.  However, last week he suffered a temporary setback making him unable to participate in workouts.  Sunday Beltre did some work on the treadmill and lifted some weights.

Every Dodger likes Beltre.  Although he is the youngest member of the Dodgers, he handles himself maturely and takes his job seriously.  When anybody sees Beltre, he usually has a grin or a happy expression on his face unless he just struck out or committed an error.  In 2000 he was one of the few Dodgers who looked as if he enjoyed and was enthusiastic about his job.

The first time I heard about Adrian Beltre was in the spring of 1998.  Beltre had put up incredible statistics at double-A San Antonio in 1997.  However, the Dodgers were not promoting him to triple-A Albuquerque because the Dodgers were concerned about putting too much pressure on the youngster.  I thought it was odd but the Dodgers sometimes brag on young players.  I did not lose much sleep over their decision. The first thing Tommy Lasorda did when he became temporary general manager was to promote Beltre to the major leagues.  Because Lasorda likes to give young players a chance, I did not think much about it and waited to see what the kid could do.

Sometimes Beltre looked overmatched in 1998, but he showed promise.  Although earlier Dodger general manager Fred Claire worried how Beltre, 19, would handle the stress of being in the major leagues, Beltre handled it beautifully.  He sometimes made foolish mistakes common with a rookie, but he never repeated them.  At the end of the 1998 season, Beltre had appeared in seventy-seven games and batted .215 with 7 home runs and 22 RBI.  Every Dodger and Dodger fan knew Beltre was a sign of the future and the future had arrived.

In 1999 at 20 Beltre was the every day Dodger third baseman.  Though he committed many errors, his large range helped his shortstop Mark Grudzielanek field his position.  Making spectacular bare-handed plays on bunts convinced the Dodger opponents to not try to drop a bunt for a hit.  Offensively he started the season as a ball of fire, hitting .294, but he struggled after the all-star break, hitting .254.  His .275 batting average, fifteen home runs, and 67 RBI was fantastic for a twenty-year-old.

After the 1999 season Adrian Beltre’s agent Scott Boras revealed the Dodgers signed Beltre before he was sixteen, the legal age to sign a baseball player to contract.  The investigation by the commissioner’s office took months to find out the Dodgers did sign Beltre before his legal age.  Though the commissioner’s office did not declare Beltre a free agent as Boras hoped, the office punished the Dodgers severely.  During this process Beltre kept his mouth shut and let his agent handle the mess.  During the 2000 spring training the Dodgers signed Beltre to an extended contract.

Beltre started the 2000 season slowly.  He did not either hit or field well.  Many questioned if his newly-signed multi year contract had affected his work ethic.  In late May he suffered a pulled groin and it took almost a month for him to return.  A conversation with Manny Mota, who advises all Dominican Dodgers, renewed Beltre’s desire and improved his work ethic.  Before the all-star break he batted .251, but after that he hit .331.  After the break he also decreased his errors.  Beltre became an offensive force in the Dodger lineup with a .290 batting average, twenty home runs, and 85 RBI.

The Dodgers thought Adrian Beltre would be an integral part of the 2001 Dodgers.  The plans changed on January 12 when Beltre’s ruptured appendix was removed.  The only symptom Beltre had was an awful stomach ache.  Every day his incision leaks and does not close, it looks dimmer for him playing in April. While his teammates play a game made for boys, Beltre fights to recover and to return to the game he loves.

© Sarah D. Morris

 

 

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