Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Carlos Beltran: A True Role Model For Today's Kids

Carlos Beltran has always been a soft-spoken leader, preferring to lead by example rather than through rah-rah histrionics. Throughout his career, he has been a player that has done everything well on the field. He can hit for average (.325 in 2009, career .283 hitter), hit for power (franchise record-tying 41 HR in 2006), steal bases (286 SB in his career) and play a Gold Glove caliber center field. He lets his talent do the talking for him on the field.

However, there is one area of his game that he is not quiet about. It’s an area that does not appear in the boxscores, does not make ESPN Top 10 lists, receives little to no press coverage and does not get enough attention on many baseball sites. It’s the charitable work he does off the field that impresses me more than anything he does on the field. Carlos Beltran has been hitting home runs off the field for years now and less fortunate children in New York and his native Puerto Rico are the beneficiaries of that extra effort.

When Carlos Beltran signed his seven-year deal with the Mets prior to the 2005 season, he had already been involved with numerous charitable organizations. He set up the Carlos Beltran Foundation in 2002 in the hopes of someday opening up a baseball academy for students in his native Puerto Rico. That “someday” is about to become a reality as the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy is set to open its doors.

The academy will serve to strengthen its students both academically and athletically. It is not meant to only serve as a place for school-age kids to hone their baseball skills, as is the case with other baseball academies. They’ll be there to learn as well, so they can take their education and apply it to the “real world” that awaits them once they graduate from the academy.

So many players from Puerto Rico and other Latin-American countries sign with major league baseball teams but come to this country unprepared in all things that are not baseball-related. They struggle with the language and other things that American-born players do with ease. It makes it very easy for people to take advantage of them, and if they don’t make it in the major leagues, they leave with nothing to fall back on. Beltran’s academy will emphasize the English language in its classes and will prepare its students for baseball and for life’s challenges so that they will not have to suffer through the hardships that other Latin-American players encountered.

Carlos Beltran has devoted so much of his time and money to realize his dream of opening this academy. Those dreams are about to come to fruition. However, just because he has spent so much time and effort with this endeavor doesn’t mean he’s taking it easy with others. In fact, he’s going above and beyond to help one particular local organization.

In 2006, Carlos Beltran was named honorary commissioner of Harlem RBI, which is an organization that provides inner-city children with the opportunity to play sports while getting a proper education, similar to what the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy is doing for children in Puerto Rico. In conjunction with being named honorary commissioner, Beltran agreed to donate $500 for every RBI he collected during the season.

From 2006 to 2008, Beltran never collected fewer than 112 RBI. Unfortunately, because of injuries that forced Carlos to miss half of the 2009 season, he only drove in 48 runs this season. According to his agreement with Harlem RBI, this would add up to a $24,000 donation. However, Carlos did not want to deny the children of money they would have gotten had he not missed so much playing time. Therefore, when he appeared at Harlem RBI on Wednesday, he donated $50,000 to the organization. The Mets matched his donation with a $50,000 contribution of their own, making the total amount of the donation $100,000.

Not everyone has been blessed with the extraordinary athletic abilities that Carlos Beltran possesses. Those who do have these abilities give children reasons to smile by hitting home runs or making a diving catch on the field. Carlos Beltran was once one of those children. He remembers what it was like for him growing up in his hometown of Manatí, Puerto Rico. It’s always difficult to balance school with sports, but it’s all the more difficult when you have to do it under tough financial situations. By taking what he learned from his childhood, Beltran is providing other children in similar situations with the opportunity to become the best players and the best people they can be. He has given back to the community that helped him get to where he is now and has not let success go to his head.

Carlos Beltran is a true role model for today’s youth. His contributions to society are just as valuable, if not more so, than his contributions on the field. As a Mets fan of Puerto Rican descent, I am proud to call Carlos Beltran my fellow countryman. But more importantly, I’m proud of Carlos Beltran, period. May he continue to succeed on the field and off. After all, Mets fans aren’t the only ones who are benefiting from his success.

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