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Beltran steps up to the plate for charity

Beltran steps up to the plate for charity

NEW YORK - For about three hours on Thursday, Carlos Beltran was tucked safely away from the limelight. Lounging in the shade of the Shea Stadium dugout, Beltran had plenty of time to revel in a routine day off, and to brush aside his normal role as the center of attention -- even if that meant the Mets were struggling a bit without him.

Then, suddenly, his vacation was cut short. The Mets roared back, Beltran stepped to the plate and -- in typical Beltran fashion -- gave the team a boost, this time walking to extend the rally.

Typically, the limelight found him. And for Beltran, it was only the beginning.

Just hours later, Beltran became the centerpiece of "Bids for Kids," a benefit auction for the center fielder's primary charity, Harlem RBI. Showered with thanks for his contributions in the past, Beltran announced his intentions to up those in the future, and in doing so ensured that he'd be squarely in the spotlight for some time to come.

"Every time you do something to help others, it's always a great feeling," Beltran said. "But it's better when it really comes from your heart. And this is something that really comes from my heart."

Beltran announced his intentions to expand a program that in 2006 saw the center fielder donate $500 to Harlem RBI for every RBI he hit with the Mets. Last year, that generosity netted the charity $58,000 after he knocked in a career-high 116 runs. This year, the Mets foundation has pledged to match that, upping the total to a combined $1,000 per RBI.

Good news, considering Beltran's already at 29, on pace to match last year's total with three quarters of this season still left to play.

"Perhaps he didn't expect to be quite so generous," joked Harlem RBI executive director Rich Berlin. "But we're glad he was."

The event itself did its part to raise money as well, with sponsorship packages netting Harlem RBI close to $900,000 before the night even began. And there were plenty of opportunities to tack onto that total, with silent and live auctions boasting everything from a day at Shea to a week in Hilton Head.

It was all for the kids -- over 650 of them -- and it went a long way. Harlem RBI uses the ideals of teamwork found in baseball to enrich the lives of inner-city children, keeping them active year-round both academically and athletically.

The program was formed in 1991, when volunteers transformed an abandoned East Harlem lot strewn with garbage into a pair of baseball diamonds. Sixteen years later, that vision hasn't changed much.

"When I went there and saw all those kids being benefited by the program," Beltran said, "and being able to take those kids out of the streets, and put them there to play baseball, study and all that -- it's a great feeling."

And if Beltran's on board, so too are the Mets. The Mets Foundation has played an active role in its players' charity work this spring, already matching donations by Carlos Delgado and Billy Wagner to their charities.

"When [Beltran] does something, I want him to know that ownership of the Mets organization wants to be with him to do this," said Mets COO Jeff Wilpon. "We're very proud to be doing it with him, and I'm proud of Carlos for doing this."

Now it's just a matter of turning those at-bats into RBIs, and turning RBIs into cash. Beltran did it better than just about anyone in baseball last season, and he's right on the same clip this spring.

And with so much now riding on every at-bat, it's safe to say the spotlight won't be leaving the center fielder again anytime soon.

"My goal is not to match last year," Beltran said of his donation. "My goal is to go over that."

Anthony DiComo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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