ARLINGTON, Texas — Adrian Beltre just wanted to work hard, be consistent and earn respect in the game. As a young player, he never even thought about historical numbers like 3,000 hits.
"Never in my mind did I think that I was going to be in the position where I'm at right now," Beltre said. "If I tell you that, that I was, I'm lying. For me, I just wanted to be a good player. ... When you play for a long time, you accumulate stuff."
Now 38 and in his 20th major league season, the Texas Rangers third baseman goes into a weekend series at home against Baltimore just four hits shy of 3,000 in his career. Only 30 other players have done that, with Ichiro Suzuki the only current active player in that club.
Next will be the five-time Gold Glove winner who got his first hit as a 19-year-old rookie with the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 24, 1998, four years after they had signed the kid from the Dominican Republic. This is Beltre's seventh season in Texas, where he finally made it to a World Series, and he is signed through next season.
"Everything you see out there, to maintain that level of intensity, you can tell how much he loves being around his team and the game," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He's got to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, doesn't he? I mean, what else do you have to do?"
On the same weekend that former Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez is in Cooperstown for his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, Beltre could get his 3,000th hit.
Beltre has some quirky habits — he checks his own swing to umpires, hates being touched on the head and there are the shuffling feet and swiveling legs in the batter's box on inside pitches or those in the dirt .
But behind that imposing stare he sometimes shows is a guy who just really loves playing the game. He is a .286 career hitter who has hit for the cycle three times, and been a league leader in hits, doubles and home runs.
"This guy plays with a relaxed intensity that you want your guys to play with. He's very focused, but he's very confident and he's comfortable in the fact that he's going to prevail in every situation," Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "And he has an unmistakable joy when on the field."
Still the same as when Scioscia was still in the Dodgers organization and first saw Beltre as a 15-year-old in the Dominican Republic, and then coming up in the minor leagues.
"You just marvel, I think, at the consistency of his game over a long period of time and you know it takes a lot to be that good that long," said Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly, an AL MVP and six-time All-Star during his 14 seasons playing for the New York Yankees.
Hall of Famer players George Brett and Wade Boggs are the only primary third basemen in the 3,000-hit club. Beltre just overtook Dave Winfield for 21st all-time with 1,095 extra-base hits. Beltre also passed Cal Ripken Jr. for 15th with his 604 doubles, and he ranks 38th with his 454 homers .
Since missing the first 51 games this season because of calf issues, Beltre is hitting a team-best .307 with nine homers and 34 RBIs in his 48 games.
Beltre was 7 for 10 in three games this week against the Marlins before a bizarre scene in the eighth inning Wednesday night, when he got ejected from the game while waiting on deck to bat again.
Second-base umpire and crew chief Gerry Davis motioned for Beltre to get closer to the on-deck circle. Beltre, already with a homer and two doubles in what became a 22-10 loss, was tossed when he instead dragged the large plastic mat marking the circle closer to him .
"There was no need for him to call me out there. There was no need to throw me out," a still-baffled Beltre said afterward. "I don't think I showed him up. I just did what he told me to do. ... He took away an at-bat from me. I don't think that was necessary."
The Rangers have six more home games before hitting the road again next week. After Baltimore, there are three games against Seattle, one of Beltre's former teams. Felix Hernandez, the 2010 AL Cy Young winner and one of Beltre's close friends, is scheduled to start the series opener Monday night.
His teammates are counting every hit, even if Beltre tries not to keep track. Manager Jeff Banister said nobody leaves the dugout when he is about to go to the plate, all of them crowding on the rail to be as close as possible.
"What he's been doing for his career and the way he's done it is just remarkable," said shortstop Elvis Andrus, nearly a decade younger than Beltre but the longest-tenured Rangers player in his ninth season. "I can't wait. I think I'm way more excited than he is."