When Carlos Beltran signed his 3-year deal with the New York Yankees this offseason, he was returning to a city that had mixed feelings about him. If you are a New York Mets fan or a New York sports fan, you probably remember that now infamous strikeout in the 2006 National League Championship Series. It left a sour taste in a lot mouths, but not Beltran. He looked forward to returning to New York City and finally becoming a Yankee.
But Beltran has another tie to the to this city, one that dates back to 1998 and his minor league days. At the time the then 21-year-old center fielder was just starting out his career in the Kansas City Royals minor league system. He was playing for the Class-A Wilmington Blue Rocks of the Carolina League. His manager in Wilmington was Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long, at the time Long was the interim manager and hitting coach.
Beltran and Long grew a special bond during their time together in Wilmington. Beltran was only a right-handed hitter at the time, but was experimenting with becoming a switch-hitter. During that year, Long and Beltran worked extensively to making him into one of the best switch-hitters of all-time. There were many long days in the cage and also days that Beltran thought he was not progressing in his craft. But a modest Long said Beltran’s strong work ethic was the reason he finally got it down pat. “I just kept reassuring him that he was getting there, and he was getting closer” Long said.
The mix of Beltran’s raw talent and commitment, Long’s patience and positive reinforcement, Beltran’s success was soon recognized by the Royals late in the 1998 season. He had made his way through the Royals farm system, then during September call-ups, Beltran made his major league debut. From that point the rest is history. In 1999 Carlos Beltran was the American League Rookie of the Year for the Royals.
Now back together again with the Yankees, the two longtime friends are working together again, and both are very grateful to be paired up again. Long has said nothing has changed with Beltran, he’s still one of the hardest working players in the game.