Hard, lonely workouts pay off for Mets' Beltran
PORT ST. LUCIE -- Carlos Beltran and I are sitting in the Mets dugout at Tradition Field. The ballpark is otherwise empty, except for three stadium workers power-washing the seats.
This was Wednesday, and he tells me how much stronger his quad area above his right knee -- the knee that was surgically repaired in January, the knee that is finally free of pain -- has become.
He rises from the bench, gets into his right-handed batting stance and rotates through the swing as leg muscles tighten.
"I'm doing more than what people think I'm doing," Beltran says with a smile.
"I'm telling you this -- when I come back, I will be stronger than ever because of the way I work every single day. You don't work like that when you're playing baseball."
The Mets center fielder does not know exactly when he will return. Until he starts running, at some point next month, he will not have an answer.
Mid-May is the most likely return date, but perhaps Beltran will be back sooner. He played only 81 games last season.
He is looking forward to playing games in his native Puerto Rico against the Marlins in June.
"It will be great to play in front of my people and my family who have supported me my whole career," he says.
Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan has an artificial-turf field, "but it doesn't matter," Beltran says. "If you're feeling good, you're feeling good. It doesn't matter if it's turf or concrete."
His workday starts in the covered batting cage, where he stands and tracks pitches and takes some light swings. He has progressed from the point where he was sitting in a chair and catching baseballs fired from the machine to taking swings.
Then the real work takes place inside the weight room.
"My quad is so much stronger than it was last year," he says. "I am working on it every day, and there is no pain in my knee. I used to have pain in the knee all the time. I'm excited.
"I am doing a lot of balance exercises, holding the squat position, things like that," he adds, as he demonstrates the move.
"I'm creating more stamina in the muscles around the knee and making it as strong as I can. If I can make the quad strong and the hamstring strong, that will give more cushion to the knee."
Essentially, Beltran, who turns 33 next month, is building a shock absorber above his right knee -- strengthening those quad muscles to carry more of the load and easing the strain on the joint.
"The exercises require a lot of effort, but I'm really feeling the results," he says.
"Every day I feel better. It's really hard work. I'm spending two to three hours a day on my legs. I have to do it. I have no options."
Beltran tells me that 20 to 30 fragments of scar tissue were removed from his knee by Dr. Richard Steadman in January.
"Before the surgery, I feel a pinch in the knee all the time, a sharp pain. Now there is no pain,"
he says. "I put pressure on the knee now and I don't feel anything. I can extend the knee now with no pain. The knee is clean now. The bone bruise is still there, but it is healing."
Mets doctors recommended rest this offseason. Beltran is certain he took the right path having the surgery.
"I couldn't wait anymore, I had to have the surgery," he says.
"The big key is when I start running -- that will tell me exactly how far behind I am or how far ahead I am.
"I pray to God every single night that when it is time for me to run that everything goes well."