Texas Rangers: Toughness, Joy and Adrian Beltre
By Ben Zajdel
Adrian Beltre has retired, and Rangers fans are reflecting on his time here in Texas. Here’s what his career meant to me.
This won’t be the typical Adrian Beltre post. I’m not going to talk about his career statistics much, or a list of his shenanigans. Travis Koch already did that here. It’s not going to be filled with behind the scenes stories, like Levi Weaver did here. There won’t be any Beltre GIFs, but here’s a thread of those by Morgan Price. There’s probably more quality Adrian Beltre stuff out there I’m missing, but that’s a good start.
No, this is going to be about what Adrian Beltre meant to me.
The Home Run
I was in the ballpark for Beltre’s first home run as a Ranger. But first, let me back up. I’ve been a Rangers fan since I was a boy. I got into baseball when I was around nine years old, just about the time the Rangers moved into the Ballpark in Arlington and changed their color scheme to bright red and white. Texas made the playoffs three of the next five seasons, each time falling to the Yankees. Still, I was hooked.
And then for years, nothing. For a long time, baseball season in DFW ended around May. There were big free agent signings and big trades, but none of them seemed to matter. Nothing worked out. The Rangers couldn’t win.
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Then the World Series run in 2010 happened. It caught me by surprise, like it did a lot of people. I knew the Rangers were improving, but no one expected them to advance to the championship. I never lost my Rangers fandom, but I’ll admit, years and years of losing made it go dormant. Now there was a reason to watch again, a reason to hope. I also happened to be working with a bunch of Rangers fans, so we fed off each others’ excitement.
So one of the guys I worked with ended up with tickets to opening night in 2011 and invited me. He was also a lifelong Rangers fan from East Texas, so we had a lot in common. We sat in some okay seats along the right field foul line, not near the wall but farther back, under an overhang of second deck seats. When Adrian Beltre came to bat in the first, we chatted about our expectations for him. We weren’t sure how he’d fit in here in Texas, though we knew he could hit. We didn’t know about his personality yet.
In the fourth inning, Beltre came up with two outs and the bases loaded. I turned to my friend and said, “He’s going to hit a grand slam.” I’ve got no way to prove it, and you don’t have to believe me, but I put in my call and Beltre parked the pitch from John Lackey into the left field stands. My friend and I jumped up from out seats and celebrated like ten-year-old boys. We high-fived and hugged each other and the strangers around us. It wasn’t official yet, but that was the first step to Adrian Beltre becoming my favorite baseball player ever.
On September 30 of this year, Beltre got his last hit, against the Mariners. He tapped a single out to right field. It’d be his last as a professional baseball player. His next at-bat a couple of innings later was a fly out right-center field. He took the field for the bottom of the fifth, but was replaced by Jurickson Profar at third. Profar gave him a big hug, and the rest of the Rangers surrounded him, giving him hugs and pats on the back. The crowd in Seattle gave him a standing ovation.
In between that grand slam in 2011 and that single in 2018, I learned a lot about Adrian Beltre. I learned about his toughness–he played with a colostomy bag, bruised testicles, a bad back, bad hamstrings, and a torn thumb tendon. It’s easy to applaud him for playing through all these ailments, but there’s plenty of guys who play through injuries.
No, what made Beltre special was that not only did he play well through these injuries, he played through them with joy. Baseball is a long, grueling sport, and it’s easy to lose sight of what makes it special. But Beltre never forgot, no matter what body part was hurting him. Whether dancing on the baselines, moving on-deck circles, throwing a glove at Elvis Andrus, or just goofing around in the dugout, Beltre didn’t let the pain and grind of a major league season steal his joy.
I’ve long given up on professional athletes being role models. But I can say this about Adrian Beltre: I want to live my life like he played baseball.
I want to be tough, to not let my body slow me down, but I don’t want toughness to be the only thing that defines me. I want to respect everyone, love my family, goof off with coworkers, have fun at my job while still doing it better than most, teach young people, and hold myself and others accountable. I want to be grateful for every moment and experience life with joy.
I won’t get to watch Adrian Beltre play baseball anymore, but I’ll get to remember what he meant to me, the Texas Rangers, and all of baseball. He was great at baseball, but better at life. He was toughness and joy personified, and if that isn’t baseball, I don’t know what is.