Puerto Rico’s Beltran worthy of Clemente

To those who say we’re only interested in the negative and controversial, we offer four Feelgood stories:

      1. Carlos Beltran

    There’s some irony here.  Physically the St. Louis Cardinals right fielder has not been feeling good, suffering from bruised ribs that require a shot of Topadol before he goes out to play.  But he’s cited here more for his heartwarming off-the-field work that earned him baseball’s ultimate Good Guy Award.

In a ceremony prior to Game 3 of the World Series, Beltran received the Roberto Clemente Award as the major-league player “who best represents the game of baseball through positive contributions on and off the field.”   Last year’s winner was Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw.

The award is named for the Hall of Famer who died in a 1972 plane crash on a relief mission to Nicaragua following an earthquake whose devastation is still visible today.

The Clemente Award added salsa to a Series that already had a strong Puerto Rican flavor, with the Big Papi, David Ortiz, leading Boston’s bid and Beltran being a major force for St. Louis.

Beltran also has starred on defense, which is how he bruised his ribs, crashing into the Fenway wall in Game 1 to rob his countryman Ortiz of a grand slam.

In accepting the award from Clemente’s widow, Vera, Beltran said he grew up admiring the Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder who is Puerto Rico’s greatest sports hero.  “I always wanted to be like him, have an opportunity to play baseball and having an opportunity to give back.”

Beltran stayed true to his boyhood goals.  He’s contributed $4 million of his own money to create and maintain the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy in Puerto Rico.  He flew home last summer to congratulate the first graduating class of a school that provides education and coaching for youths who wouldn’t have them otherwise.

He is, Mrs. Clemente gushed during the award ceremony, “the pride of all Puerto Ricans.”

On the field, Beltran at 36 is having a season that hearkens to his hero.  Like Clemente he plays right field, though in his young and fast days he was a wide-ranging center fielder.  Like Clemente he’s known for high average, above-average power, low strikeouts and walks.  Beltran this season hit .296 with 30 doubles, 24 homers, 84 RBI.

He’s one of baseball’s all-time best postseason performers, with 16 home runs and a .337 batting average in 50 games.  But until this month he had never played in a World Series.


        2. Dustin Pedroia 

He’s the everyman non-athlete, the undersized (5-8, 165 pounds) second baseman of American League champion Boston who puts up numbers befitting a much larger man: .301 batting average, .372 on-base, .415 slugging.

And even though he’s not fast, Pedroia stole 17 bases this season.

Pat Murphy, Tampa Bay Rays scout who coached Pedroia at Arizona State, said he has always been a player who makes the most of his limited gifts.  “He’s shown you’re never too small, never too slow.”

In the World Series, Pedroia has contributed timely hits, notable defense and clubhouse leadership.

And also a sense of humor, which should not be discounted in an atmosphere as inherently tense as the World Serious.  When Pedroia was asked about “allegations” concerning a teammate, he said, “I don’t know what that word is, man.  Arizona State education, bro.”


        3. Greg Oden

        He was supposed to be the best basketball big man since Shaquile O’Neal.  Instead he became known as the Big Mistake, because Portland chose him over Kevin Durant as the first choice in the 2007 draft.

While Durant turned into one of the most prolific scorers ever, Oden is one of the most injured.  In six years he has had six knee surgeries and has played in a total of 82 games.

So where’s the Feelgood part?  It’s this:  Oden now finds himself with the world champion Miami Heat, and with a key role:  the muscle for the front court, support pillar for LeBron James.  There could be rings in his future.

This preseason was his first game action in almost four years, but he looked surprisingly sharp and threw down a monster dunk on New Orleans.   James said if he were a drinker he would give Oden a toast.

But coach Erik Spoelstra said Oden’s time will be limited, as the player’s surgical knee gets tested.  The hope is, however, that he will provide some toughness that’s lacking in starting center Chris Bosh.

Oden is patient.  And not interested in the speculation.  As the regular season was about to open, he said, “I’m still standing and I’m happy.  So let’s just keep building from that.”


          4. Channing Frye

            After missing a year and a half of basketball because of an enlarged heart, the Phoenix Suns forward is playing again.  In fact, playing more than he expected.

The plan was for him to work slowly back to full speed.  But he was slated to be in the starting lineup this week, with the Suns opening their season and Markieff Morris suspended for excessive elbowing.

Suns coach Jeff Hornaceck said, “Channing’s going to have to play whether he’s in shape  or not.”

With his heart condition, Frye could not work out as strenuously as other players.  Asked how he spent the offseason, he told azcentral.com:  “A lot of golf, a lot of yoga.  I traveled a lot.  I went to the X games.  I went to a bunch of weddings.”



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