Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
It was a casual lunch, Italian food in Manhattan. Allard Baird and Omar Minaya both have known Carlos Beltrán for years and the three pals ate together last month, a meal that was "more personal than business," Baird says.
"It wasn't in great detail about managing or anything like that," Baird adds.
Still, Beltrán made a powerful impression when he talked about how he saw himself contributing to a ball club. It was clear to Baird and Minaya, the top lieutenants to Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen, that Beltrán was "much further along than anyone would've anticipated," Baird says, and had bloomed into manager material.
After lunch, Baird and Minaya called Van Wagenen. "Brodie," Baird recalls saying, "this guy is pretty good."
Beltrán was already on Van Wagenen's mind as "a talent," as Baird puts it. The GM had said as much to Baird when he first talked to Baird about joining the Mets front office last year.
But Beltrán's relationships with Baird and Minaya also played a role in getting Beltrán to where he was Monday morning, standing at a podium at Citi Field, donning his old No. 15 Mets jersey and talking about becoming the club's 22nd manager. Van Wagenen even mentioned the history between the men during his introductory remarks at the press conference.
Minaya, of course, was the Mets GM who signed Beltrán to the seven-year, $119-million contract in 2005 that brought the outfielder to Queens. Baird goes back with Beltrán to the mid-90s, first scouting Beltrán, a promising high school junior, for the Kansas City Royals and later becoming Royals GM as Beltrán's career was soaring. They've stayed in touch ever since.
Did Beltrán profile as a future manager back then? "I can't say I was that smart," Baird says. "One thing -- he saw the game from a different lens than the majority of players out on the field. Obviously, he had great athleticism and tools, but the way he did things, always searching. He was kind of like a utility player today, who has to be sharp, has to find every way to prove their worth.
"He could run, throw, play defense, hit with power, was patient. But if you really peel him back as a player, he was all about finding opportunities to get better from a tactical side"
That meant Beltrán, even with the physical gifts of a superstar, always noticed if an opposing catcher got lazy. Or sniffed out the giveaway tic on a pitcher's pickoff move. That eye for detail should translate to Beltrán's new job, too.
Baird first saw that Beltrán might want to manage when he and his wife went out to dinner with Beltrán and his wife after Beltrán retired as a player after the 2017 season. Years ago, Baird says, Beltrán was "relatively quiet."
At dinner, however, this was a new Carlos, talking about growing clubhouse culture. He discussed finding ways to put young players into prime position to help the ball club, rather than worrying about them, as Baird puts it, "earning their stripes" in the majors.
"He looked at it in a very 'finer-points' way," Baird says. "I remember telling my wife, 'This guy really wants to do some things in a different light than just being a Hall of Fame player."
To Minaya, Beltrán has changed from when he first came to the Mets in 2005 amid enormous expectations. "He was kind of reserved. Shy, somewhat," Minaya says. "That was his demeanor, coming into New York.
"He's a different person now in how he commands the room, how he talks, how he leads. He's evolved. But we're talking about years ago -- I think we've all evolved along the way."
Now the Mets, including Baird and Minaya, have to help shrink the learning curve for Beltrán in this new gig. There's plenty of optimism, but Beltrán has a lot to prove and winter faith only goes so far, even among friends.
"When you get to that level, the personal side is great," Baird says. "But at the end of the day, this is Major League Baseball and there's expectations."