In April 2014, Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda was suspended for using pine tar on the mound. Pineda's reputation dipped, and baseball purists came after the 25-year-old's head. When the Dominican addressed the media about the incident, he did so without a translator.
Carlos Beltran was skeptical about the way things were handled with Pineda and with Spanish-speaking players in general. Beltran, who was in his first month with his sixth franchise, said a translator could help players like Pineda "express himself the way [he] wants to."
"It’s something that MLB or the Players Association has to address," Beltran said.
In many ways, Beltran is a bridge for Spanish- and English-speaking players because he is from Puerto Rico, where both languages are officially recognized. That's why Puerto Ricans in the majors often serve as interpreters for players from exclusively Spanish-speaking countries in their interaction with media, coaches and teammates.
It also gives players like Beltran a greater appreciation of the language barrier, and his voice has been heard. Last month, MLB announced all 30 teams will be required to hire full-time Spanish translators for the 2016 season.
"I'm very happy about it," Beltran said Wednesday during a media event at the Topps office in New York City. "I think it will help baseball overall. Communication wise, sometimes I've been in meetings where managers are talking about strategy, philosophy or the organization. I try to sit next to the Latino players and when the meeting's over, I basically say, 'Hey, you understand what the guys are talking about?' They go, 'No idea.'"
On Opening Day last season, roughly 25 percent of MLB players came from Spanish-speaking countries.
"It's frustrating for me because communication is important," Beltran said. "When the manager's talking, you want to know what we're talking about. And now, we're going to have a person who's going to be able to help these guys with their roles and what is going on and after games, it's going to be helpful for everyone. There's not going to be miscommunication. It's going to be beautiful."
Beltran, who turns 39 in April, is trying to remain a beautiful baseball player. In 2015, he batted .276 with 19 home runs, 67 RBI and 57 runs, all improvements from 2014. Beltran is entering the final season of a three-year deal, and he is not ready to determine if 2016 will be his last.
Beltran will make one guarantee: He will not play first base. The Yankees expected Mark Teixeira and 23-year-old Greg Bird to split time at the position, but New York recently announced Bird will miss 2016 after shoulder surgery. Beltran has spent his entire career in the outfield, and after one game at first base in 2014, Beltran is staying away from the dirt.
"I will do anything except that," he said with a straight face. "I never play in the infield. That's a different animal. I got a chance to do it my first year and Joe [Girardi] says, 'Hey, Carlos, want to go to first?' I say, 'Brother, I'll go,' but I had no cup. David Ortiz was hitting. I'm like, oh my God. The first pitch, I didn't even see the ball coming out of the pitcher's hand. I felt like everything happened so fast. That day, I said, 'Wow.' My respect for infielders, for pitchers, everything ... the game [in the outfield], it's so easy, so simple. You see the ball coming out of the bat, but you see everything happen so fast in the infield. I was praying to God for the game to end because I was very nervous. It's been a long time that I got nervous in the game of baseball, but that day I was very nervous.
"I remember Joe went to Ichiro [Suzuki] and said, 'Ichiro, want to go to first?' And Ichiro said, 'Hell no.' And Joe said, 'Carlos, you go to first.' I went and it was not a funny moment for me."
A happier moment for Beltran came this October when he watched the Mets, his club from 2005-2011, make a run at the World Series. Although many Yankees fans held their breath as the crosstown rival shut down the rest of the National League, Beltran, who was still in New York City, wore orange and blue on his sleeve.
"I was happy for guys like [Daniel] Murphy, [who,] basically, put in an unbelievable run, and David Wright, guys that I played with, Lucas Duda, Jonathon Niese," Beltran said. "It was good to see those guys experiencing that moment."
Beltran was part of the Mets' previous deep playoff run. In 2006, the Amazins brought the Cardinals down to the wire in the NLCS. In the bottom of the ninth, with St. Louis leading 3-1, Beltran came to bat with the bases loaded and two outs. Then-rookie closer Adam Wainwright froze Beltran on an 0-2 curve to end the game.
Beltran never returned to the playoffs with the Mets (but did make the World Series with the Cardinals). However, he did get a taste of the next generation in Queens during his final half season in 2011, when the Mets hired manager Terry Collins.
"He's a great man," Beltran said. "He's a great manager. I think when I first knew that he was going to come to the Mets, we heard a lot of bad things about Terry Collins, about his previous experience when he managed the Astros and [Angels]. When I first got him as a manager…he was the best manager I ever had in my career, as a ballplayer. [He] communicated, [he was] very intense. That's what you look for in a manager."
Beltran was right there with Mets Nation watching Collins negotiate with Matt Harvey in the Citi Field dugout during Game 5 of the World Series. Beltran could tell Collins was torn on his decision, which ultimately sent Harvey back to the mound in the ninth inning.
"Harvey was pitching such a good game and Harvey was showing that he wanted that moment," Beltran says. "[Collins] basically went with what Harvey showed him. He didn't go with what he was thinking. That's an experience for him. Next time, it's not going to happen. He'll say, 'My friend, I'll give you a kiss if I have to, but I got to bring in my closer right here.'"
For critics still bashing Beltran's best manager, the switch-hitter has words of wisdom.
"I don't think it was a bad decision to keep him in, but in his heart, he wanted to make it different," Beltran said. "That's the beauty of being a manger. Sometimes, you got to go with what you feel."
As for Beltran's visit to Topps, the veteran was promoting the company's 2016 card set with Rays third baseman Evan Longoria. Beltran joked that his mother's favorite day of the year is not Mother's Day or her birthday, but when Beltran brings home all his new cards (of him) from the season.
Growing up in Puerto Rico, baseball cards were a rite of passage for young fans.
"We used to get the cards, we used to throw the cards at the wall, and the card that stood up against the wall, [the person with that card] pick up all the cards," Beltran said. "We were kind of maybe giving away cards that now have a lot of value, but back in the day, we were just looking at the cards not thinking about it.
"Now, I tell my daughters, collect cards. That is something that is fun to have. Maybe when you have kids, you can pass that on."
— Jeffrey Eisenband (@JeffEisenband) February 16, 2016
Beltran is asked how much a pack of cards cost in Puerto Rico during his childhood. "Like a quarter, or maybe 15 cents," he said.
He starts talking about how much baseball cards cost nowadays. No one gives him a straight answer.
"You know what, I don't buy them because I get them for free," he said to wrap up the media session with a laugh.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.