NEW YORK -- Contrary to what you might think, the homecoming that this All-Star Game represents for Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran is not bittersweet.
For Beltran it is pretty much just sweet, as he continues to enjoy just about everything about his late-career resurgence.
"I think being able to be here really means the job that you're doing in the first half is a good job, I guess," Beltran said. "I'm just proud to be here, back in New York, and happy to be here. I have so many good people, so many friends that I've had the opportunity to, in the times that I played here, to meet. It's a good feeling."
The Mets and their fans certainly wouldn't have predicted on July 28, 2011 -- the day Beltran was traded to the Giants -- that he would still be playing at an All-Star level two years later.
There's one person, however, who might have expected such a rebound.
"I'm not surprised at all. And I don't want to sound as if I'm not humble," Beltran said. "I just know what I'm capable of doing. I'm a guy that's always worked hard and always take my job seriously. I have pride for what I do. So I don't feel like I'm surprised. I know that health is a big part of my success."
Beltran, who wears a Cardinals uniform these days, knows that his time with the Mets wasn't all about big home runs or diving catches.
There were ups and downs.
The ups? He shook off a brutal first year in Flushing by helping the Mets advance to Game 7 of the National League Championship Series in 2006. In each year from 2006 through 2008, he topped 25 homers and 110 RBIs.
The downs? Without question, that's 2005, when Beltran was the classic case of a free agent feeling too much pressure to live up to a big contract, and hit just 16 homers in 650 at-bats. Though things were mostly great in '06, Beltran didn't take the bat off his shoulders when strike three went past him for the final out of that Game 7 against the Cardinals. And 2009 and '10, when he was limited to half-seasons because of knee injuries, were times of utter frustration.
"Honestly, for me, the years that I was here, I felt that we had good teams. I felt that our team was built to win a World Series," Beltran said. "It didn't happen. We went through a lot of injuries, a lot of ups and downs. But at the end of the day, that's part of baseball. But I really enjoyed my team. Believe it or not, I really feel like the years I was healthy, I put good years for the organization. For the years I was hurt, it just didn't work out."
Considering the mixed bag that was Beltran's near seven-year run in the Big Apple, does he think he'll be greeted with mostly cheers or boos when he is announced during pregame introductions on Tuesday?
"I don't know how they will perceive me," he said. "Honestly, I'm just happy to be here. I'm just happy to be able to have a good first half and be able to be here in the All-Star Game. I'm going to enjoy the moment, and if they cheer, it will be great. If they boo, it also will be great, because I'm going to be out there having fun."
With a World Series appearance in his sights, Beltran can hardly take the smile off his face these days.
Those frustrating final years in New York feel like a long time ago.
"I'm happy," he said. "It's great to be healthy, great to be back playing the game to the level that I know I can play it. Like I say, the knee issue is gone, and I've been training hard and doing things a little differently. For the most part, when you're healthy, it just gives you an opportunity to come to the ballpark not thinking about injuries. You're just focusing on the game and the job you need to do in order to help the team win."
At the age of 36, Beltran is hitting .309 with 18 homers, 60 RBIs and an .879 OPS.
Is it really that stunning?
"When I left the Mets, I was feeling good physically," he said. "Why not? I'm 36. I'm not 46 or 56. I know that 36 in baseball probably sounds old. But I don't feel old, man. I feel young."
At the end of this season, Beltran will be a free agent. Though it would make a compelling storyline, he doesn't expect a return engagement with the Mets.
"I don't think that's going to happen. I don't think that the Mets are going to go for it," he said. "Honestly, I would consider anything. Right now, like you say, I'm going to be a free agent, and I just need to find out what the interest is in the market. I already got traded [from the Mets]. I already got traded, and they're going to go sign me back?"
The final phase of All-Star Game voting will again have fans participating in the official voting for the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. During the Midsummer Classic, fans will vote exclusively online at MLB.com via the 2013 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote, and their voice will represent 20 percent of the official vote determining the recipient of the Arch Ward Trophy.
The 2013 All-Star Game will be played at Citi Field on Tuesday. Come to MLB.com for extensive online coverage of the All-Star Week festivities.
The 84th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network and SiriusXM also will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.