All-Star selection special for Beltran

PHOENIX -- Carlos Beltran's first All-Star appearance came July 13, 2004, in Houston, representing the National League. It came all of 19 days after the Kansas City Royals traded him to the Astros.

Beltran now has made five All-Star appearances as a New York Met as well. Yet the current invite might be the most special.

Eighteen months ago, Beltran underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. And while he avoided the more serious microfracture procedure, he nonetheless did not appear for the Mets last year until the second-half opener in San Francisco.

Then, with continued knee woes, Beltran was limited to three Grapefruit League games this spring. He even volunteered to move from center field to right field.

Yet Beltran earned another All-Star invitation, this time as a pick of NL manager Bruce Bochy. Beltran, in fact, unpredictably appeared in more games during the first half than any other Met -- 89 of 91.

"This is No. 6 for me, but at the same time, this one really means a lot after what I went through last year with my injury and the year before," Beltran said Monday at the Arizona Biltmore, after Bochy announced Beltran would serve as DH and bat second in the NL starting lineup.

The NL now will employ a designated hitter even in NL ballparks for the All-Star Game, and Beltran is an interesting choice for that distinction. Mets manager Terry Collins had figured Beltran would need to use the DH during interleague play to keep his knees fresh. But through series at Yankee Stadium, Texas and Detroit, Beltran opted to DH only three times. He preferred, and felt well enough, to man right field.

Beltran agreed it was unforeseeable during spring training to assume he would have more games played than any teammate. Still, Beltran knew based on the workload he was able to withstand during winter training in Puerto Rico that he stood a chance of playing regularly.

As for DHing in the All-Star Game, Beltran said the topic came up during the flight from San Francisco to Phoenix. Beltran, Jose Reyes and Mets PR man Jay Horwitz hitched a ride with the sizable Giants contingent, which included five players, Bochy and his coaching staff, and other San Francisco personnel.

"Yesterday I had a conversation with Bochy on the airplane, and he asked me if I wanted to play in the field or DH," Beltran said. "I said, 'You're the manager. You do whatever you feel is best for the team.' He said, 'OK, I'll put you at DH. Get two at-bats. After that, you're good to go.'"

It's little secret the Giants are one of the teams that will pursue Beltran in the next three weeks as the trade deadline approaches.

Beltran said the small Mets contingent mostly stayed in the back of the Giants' plane Sunday night, although San Francisco third baseman Pablo Sandoval did visit Beltran, and Horwitz reminisced with Bochy about the Giants' manager's 49 at-bats in 1982 as a Mets catcher. Bochy hit .306 with two homers at the major league level that year but had a .227 average in 81 games with Triple-A Tidewater and was released.

Anyway, Beltran's stance on a trade is this: The Mets have a winning record, albeit a modest 46-45. With Reyes, David Wright and Ike Davis all due back from the disabled list within a few weeks, the hope is that the Mets take off and he remains. But Beltran -- who is in the final season of a seven-year, $119 million deal -- indicated he was not likely to use his full no-trade clause to veto a deal if it meant an opportunity to get to a playoff-bound team.

"I would love to be in a place where I have a chance to win," Beltran said. "But, like I said, right now we're winning. I mean, we're playing good. We're playing good baseball. It's not that we're out."

Beltran reiterated that stance when he was asked point-blank by the Boston Herald if he would accept a trade to the Red Sox. "They're in first place. It's a no-brainer," Beltran told the Herald. "Boston is a great team, they have a great team. Like I say, man, right now the Mets know that I have made it clear to them, I'm willing to listen if they want to trade me. All I want to be is on a team that has a chance to go to the playoffs. I know there are a lot of teams out there having a good season. At the end of the day, it will not depend on Carlos Beltran; it will depend on the New York Mets for what direction they're going to take."

Beltran said the no-trade protection he received seven years ago from the Mets was far and away the reason he signed with the organization rather than reupping with Houston. He said the years and dollars in the offers from the Mets and Astros otherwise were comparable.

"When I got traded from Kansas City to Houston, I had the chance to go to the playoffs in Houston," Beltran recalled. "So all I wanted to do was go back, because I had the opportunity of playing there and everything went well. At the same time, as a ballplayer, you want to establish yourself. You want to be able to be in a place where you can make that place home [with no-trade protection]. And Houston didn't give me that opportunity. And the Mets gave me that. So that was important for me.

"Plus, at the same time, the Mets signed Pedro [Martinez]. They were rebuilding. After they signed Pedro, I think they were serious about trying to put out a good team every year and win. And that's what they did."

When Beltran arrived in spring training the following year, Mike Piazza was in his swan song as a Met. Piazza described Beltran patrolling center field as "gazelle"-like. Beltran clearly has slowed. His knees are arthritic. But he has accomplished something in getting back to the All-Star Game. And he appreciates the opportunity.

"After everything I went through last year, through the rehab and trying to get back on the field, thank god I was able to put a good first half together and be rewarded with being here at the All-Star Game," Beltran said. "It's a great feeling."