INTERVIEW: Former MLB All-Star Carlos Beltran Reflects Back On His Foundation, The Pitcher He Dread

On Saturday, July 27, baseball great Carlos Beltran celebrated his retirement during the 5th Annual Bridgehampton Benefit - a fundraiser for the Carlos Beltran Foundation and Operation International. Prior to the soiree, and filming the StarTalk podcast with Neil deGrasse Tyson, Chuck Nice, and Gary O'Reily at Southampton Arts Center, had the pleasure of sitting down with Beltran to chat about his charity, his nearly 20 year MLB career, and more. 

You founded your organization in 2002 while you were still playing baseball. Why was it important for you to incorporate philanthropy into your life? 

CB: I came from a super humble background. My family, we struggled as a family, and understanding that God gave me an opportunity to play the game and to be successful, I felt that that was important - to give back to the community. There's no doubt that when I look at my career, and I look at my past, every single day I thank God for the opportunity, I thank God for being able to help me to develop myself into the player that I was able to turn out to be. But, at the same time, I also feel that I have to do something with the platform that God has given me, and try to use my name, use the platform to help people and kids that have the same mentality that I had when I was a kid to try to be successful. Sometimes they don't have the resources. So I said, you know what? I have to do something and I was able to build the Foundation. With the Foundation, the first thing that we started doing, and I remember when I was with the Mets, we got involved with the Harlem RBI program. And every year, we were able to donate almost half a million dollars to the Harlem RBI program, in conjunction with the Mets. 

We give scholarships to kids who were struggling, but they needed that help in order to continue with their education. So we did that. Every single year, we feel like okay, what is next? How are we going to continue to help? So, we built a high school in Puerto Rico that specializes in baseball and that's another project. We also have our Foundation in Puerto Rico - we're now rebuilding seven new homes for seven families in Puerto Rico that were affected by Hurricane Maria. We are always trying to find a way to do things and to be involved. It's a routine for me, I don't even think about it. I'm always thinking, okay, how can we put our hands on this, how can we help that? And, look at the necessity and not only being able to look at the necessity and say, okay, that's a great, great thing. So, it's acting on necessities. 

What's your hope for the future of the organization? 

CB: To continue to get better, to continue to impact, double our help, and to continue to motivate other people that have resources to say, you know what, when I compare my resources to all the people that have 5, 6, 7 times more resources than I have, hopefully, I can motivate somebody to do something. This doesn't only go to the people that have more resources. A lot of people come to me and say, "Carlos, this is great that you're doing this. I wish I could do what you're doing, but I can't. I don't have the money that you have." And I say, "Well, let me tell you something..." For me, when I hear that, I say, and I try to be respectful. "That's an excuse - because we all can do something, could be big, could be medium, could be little." Maybe you don't have the money, but you have your time, and that has value. So, for me, if everyone just says, you know what, I will do something positive for somebody, there's no doubt that we can make a better place of the place we're living in. 

Is this your first time in the Hamptons? 

CB: This is my second time. But this is the first time we're spending time here - we have spent a few days here. My first time that I came to the Hamptons, I came for four or five hours. I didn't get to experience the towns. They're very interesting towns - super country. You have this perception in your mind because all these celebrities come here. It's a very country town, beautiful town, very green. Now I know why people come here. They come here because they want to relax. It's a great town. 

I have to touch upon baseball a bit. Who were some of the pitchers you dreaded facing? 

CB: I was very competitive. So I felt that in order for me to prove myself, I needed to face good pitchers. That doesn't mean that they were easy guys for me to face. But the toughest guy that I faced that, that for me was a challenge and a battle - that was Pedro Martinez. Pedro was one of those guys who was super competitive, super intense. I was the same thing. It's a battle, he's trying to intimidate me and I'm trying to prove that I'm not scared, I'm here for the battle with you. When we met, wow... Now that I'm out of baseball, if there's something that I miss it's that competition. 

And you guys actually got to play together on the Mets, right? 

CB: Yes, we did. Great teammate, great, great guy. We're good friends. Sometimes we sit down and we talk baseball. We talk about those moments and it's good to remember that we were able to play against each other, play together on the same team. I got to see also what kind of human being he is. He does a lot of great things in the Dominican Republic, also with his foundation. So we have a lot of things in common and a lot of things in common means being able to struggle - because I do believe that when you struggle, you grow. And we struggled, and we were able to grow, but we also were able to look back and say, you know what, we have to do something about our youth. 

What were some of your favorite stadiums to play at? 

CB: I like Yankee Stadium it's a good stadium. I like Citi Field, it's a great stadium also, big but good. On the West Coast, I liked to play at Dodger Stadium. In the Central Division, I liked to play in Kansas City, an old stadium, but beautiful. St. Louis - the fans are incredible. And I also enjoyed playing in Cleveland. 

Now, you played for both the New York Mets and New York Yankees. What were some of the biggest differences playing in the Bronx and Flushing? 

CB: Well, Yankee fans, they have a little bit more patience. (Beltran said with a chuckle.) 

You're talking to a Mets fan. (Barylski responded with a laugh.) 

CB: Mets fans are a little bit impatient, and I can understand that, because they want to win. They want to be, one day, hopefully the team becomes a championship team. 

I played for the Mets and for the Yankees, and I have to say that my time with the Mets was great, even though we didn't win, but we had good teams, I had good teammates. It's a good organization. I just can't believe that they have been able to put all this talent together and things haven't worked. I just hope that one day it will and it will be incredible to try to repeat what the Yankees did with the Mets in the World Series, the Subway World Series - that was incredible. 

I work for the Yankees a little bit now, I'm an advisor for the Yankees, and I get to see what they're doing in the front office. I'm not there with the Mets, but I have to say that both teams are capable of having a place in New York because the Yankees, they try to be the best American League team. I think the focus of the Mets has to be I need to be the best National League team. It's not about the Yankees competing with what the Mets are doing, it's not about the Mets competing with what the Yankees are doing. I think if you do focus on that, then you're missing out on a lot of good opportunities as an organization. But for me, both are great organizations. 

As a special advisor for the Yankees, what does that entail? 

CB: I get to give the organization a lot of perspective on how players think, how players care, what they care about, what players we believe can help us. I also study a lot of the minor league players, I'm a guy that I believe in development. So I look at a minor league guy, and if he's struggling in a certain area, I try to come up with something for how we can help this kid to develop so he could become a better player, and, at the same time as organization, we can benefit from his talent. Baseball is a very demanding sport, you deal a lot with failures. I also believe that not only do we have to be able to train our kids or prospects to be good players with their physique or with their bodies, we also have to train our guys with their minds, because a lot of guys, they don't know how to deal with failure. So a lot of time dealing with failure could turn your career, could end it. But, if we can help and be supportive to guys that don't know how to handle those struggles, then we can bring them back to normal and hopefully they can continue to understand that it was necessary for me to struggle in order to understand that, in order to grow, I had to struggle. 

For a players perspective, with the trade deadline looming, what's it like in the clubhouse? 

CB: It could be stressful for a lot of guys because it's a topic there. Organizations think, okay, so what will the front office do to help us out? A lot of the time a trade, yes, can make the difference. I saw that in 2017 with the Astros when we got Verlander, our team got better. But, a lot of times, it's not necessarily because a lot of the time you end up giving too much for something that might not work. You don't know if it's gonna work. If the team is out of the race, then you don't expect anything because the team will not be able to invest in somebody from an opposing team that's going to come help because they're not going anywhere. But, for the teams that are in the mix, it could boost their energy, it could boost the focus. When the trade deadline is done and nothing is done, it could demoralize some of the guys thinking, oh, man, they don't believe in us. They don't think we're going to win. Those are the kind of topics that people can get caught up in. 

What does it mean to you to be here in the Hamptons celebrating your retirement? 

CB: I feel happy to be here. Honestly, I'm excited, looking forward to enjoying the night with the people in the Hamptons and at the same time continuing to promote what we're doing with our Foundation and hopefully other people will get motivated and get involved. That's what it's all about. It's about trying to share the experience that you have lived and hopefully it resonates with somebody and somebody says, you know what? I want to get involved. I want to build my own foundation or I'm going to get involved in doing something for the community here in the Hamptons or anywhere. At the end of the day, that's what you try to promote.


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