Appreciate these players now, because they’ll be gone soon

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One day, your job will be to tell people just how good Albert Pujols is.

They’ll see the numbers. They’ll have more videos to watch than we ever did for players who were before our time. But they’ll never know the feeling of dread when he batted against your team. Or the feeling of elation that came with watching him play every day, year after year, with the smoothest right-handed stroke of his generation. Of any generation.

I have some bad news, though: That day is right now. Right now there are recent baseball converts who don’t know Pujols, other than as the overpaid former star who suffered a rapid decline immediately after joining the Angels. There are young people who kinda sorta knew about Pujols, but didn’t get heavy into baseball until after he was just a guy. It’s already necessary to spread the Gospel of Pujols.

He really was great, you know.

This is a reminder that time is a jerk, and all of our favorite players will go away someday. For these players, the time might not be imminent, it might not even be for a few years. But it’s coming. So appreciate them now, while you still have the chance.

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Dustin Pedroia

When Dustin Pedroia trots out onto the field each year on opening day, I think to myself, "Huh, awesome! Pedroia’s still around!"

It’s the most pleasant surprise, even though it shouldn’t be a surprise at all: Pedroia is only getting better. It just feels too good to be true; here's a guy who won two World Series with Boston, in 2007 and 2013. Besides Hanley Ramirez, he’s the only one left on the team who played for Terry Francona. Pedroia serves as a link to the team’s past, a reminder of the years after that first glorious win in 2004. Years when Boston fans finally understood what it was like not to be heartbroken season after season.

But Pedroia has been so much more than just a reminder. He had the best season of his career in 2016, both offensively and defensively, and Red Sox Manager John Farrell has said that he’ll be hitting leadoff this year. The Sox could be great this season — they have a new killer pitcher in the form of Chris Sale, and, after a strong postseason showing last year, things are looking promising. If they can pull of a World Series win, Pedroia would join the ranks of only 10 other active players in the league who’ve taken home three rings.

Pedroia's glory often flies under the radar, because so does Pedroia. He’s a little dude who isn’t very flashy and doesn’t say anything terribly interesting. There have been no "this is our fucking city!" moments from him during his tenure in Boston the way there were from the larger-than-life David Ortiz (the two are, after years of being on the same team, close friends).

No one is really talking about Pedroia’s retirement. He hasn’t made any noises about hanging up his cleats, and he’s under contract with the Sox until 2021. But he’s 33, and, after 11 years in the league, "When will this end?" is another thought that has started to flicker across my brain when Pedroia steps up to the plate. A thought that is, if nothing else, a good reminder to appreciate this guy while we have him. To revel in the delight that is his unrelenting excellence.

— Charlotte Wilder

Adrian Beltre

There are plenty of reasons to love Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre.

He hits home runs off one knee, somehow. He and shortstop Elvis Andrus have a fun game of trying to playfully distract each other on an infield pop up. Beltre hates it when people touch his head.

These are all things we will miss about Beltre when he is gone, not that he is going anywhere anytime soon. He turns 38 during the first week of the season, but is signed for two more years, through the end of 2018, so there is plenty of time to still appreciate his greatness.

If it seems like Beltre has been around forever, it’s because he basically has. Opening day will mark the beginning of his 20th season in Major League Baseball.

Twenty years!

If anyone plays 20 years of any sport, that is to be lauded as a tremendous accomplishment. But to have 19 major league seasons under your belt and still rank among the very best players in baseball is astonishing.

Beltre hit .300/.358/.521 for the Rangers last year with 32 home runs, and won his fifth Gold Glove Award, consistent with his reputation as one of the best defenders in the game at third base. He has been among the top 10 in Wins Above Replacement in each of the last three seasons and has averaged 6.1 WAR per year in his 30s.

This will be a year to appreciate Beltre, as he is just 58 hits shy of 3,000 in his career. There are only two primary third baseman with 3,000 hits -- George Brett and Wade Boggs. Both are immortalized in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, where Beltre will one day join them.

Beltre will probably go into the Hall with a Rangers cap on, but also spent significant portions of his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Seattle Mariners. He even played one season with the Boston Red Sox.

But in reality, Beltre belongs to all of us, and we are lucky to have him.

Eric Stephen

Carlos Beltran

Carlos Beltran is a Hall of Famer. Whether he makes the Hall of Fame or not is a different discussion entirely, but he should be a Hall of Famer, as his career is certainly worthy of it. He’s now 40 years old, and baseball players don’t go for much longer than that. David Ortiz just retired after his age-40 season because the work it took for him to still be David Ortiz in his day-to-day life was exhausting and all-consuming. Alex Rodriguez looked like he had totally forgotten how to play baseball once he hit 40, and now he’s a television analyst despite a historically notable age-39 campaign.

Beltran had a pretty good run at 39, and now he’s back in Houston with the Astros, the team he put himself on the map with thanks to a magical half-season. Beltran was putting up numbers for the Royals previously, but then he was dealt to the Astros midseason, hit 23 homers in 90 games with them, then followed that up with a postseason that saw him hit another eight over the course of the NLDS and NLCS. It wasn’t enough for Houston, just like slugging .667 with three dingers wasn’t enough to push the Mets past the Cardinals in the NLCS two years later, but sadly, what people remember is him striking out against a wicked curveball instead of the fact that the Mets weren’t even in that situation without him.

If Beltran has two years left in him — two real good years — he could reach 3,000 hits in the majors. That’s going to be an uphill battle, but it’s not impossible. Regardless of whether he hits that round number, he’ll be close, and he’s already got well over 400 homers, 300 steals, and as of right now, a career line of .281/.354/.492 over 19 years and north of 10,000 plate appearances.

What’s hard to suss out now in his older years as a designated hitter is that Beltran was known for his efficient base stealing and incredible defense in center in his youth. He was just a fantastic all-around player, and we’ve already lost that guy. The better he does from here until the end, though, the more likely it is that people will remember him, or at least want to know who he is.

Marc Normandin

Matt Holliday

I’m already upset thinking about how we’re all going to forget about Matt Holliday just a few years after he retires. And that day is coming soon. With his age-37 season upon us and him officially entering the stage of his career in which he can basically only DH, the end is near for Holliday. Even now, when we should be looking back at how amazingly consistent he was over all these years, he remains one of the most underappreciated players in the game.

Part of the reason that we don’t really appreciate who Holliday is as a hitter is because he started off in Coors Field. He’s the poor man’s Larry Walker in that way. Our first impression of him was great, but it was tainted by playing in Colorado. Despite posting a 131 OPS+ in four-and-a-half years with the Rockies, no one was really convinced that he could do it outside of Coors. Then, prior to the 2008 season, he was dealt to Oakland. He was merely good rather than great there, so people felt vindicated until he was traded again that summer to St. Louis. There, he thrived.

He thrived enough to convince the Cardinals to sign him to a huge five-year deal, something St. Louis isn’t exactly wont to do. It paid off, though, as Holliday spent eight years with the Cardinals holding down the middle of their lineup. In the end, he isn’t going to end up in the Hall of Fame, and he doesn’t deserve to.

What he deserves, though, is to have a couple years on the ballot where we can all reminisce. Reminisce mostly about the consistency it takes to post an OPS+ between 127 and 150 every year from 2006 until 2014. And reminisce about what it takes to do that year after year without getting noticed. Holliday only has a couple years left in the game, so let’s appreciate what an amazing hitter he’s been, and what a strong hitter he can still be.

Matt Collins

R.A. Dickey

One of the best parts about baseball is that it’s always pulling your pants down at the bus stop and pushing you into traffic. In a good way! One minute you’re not used to Daniel Murphy hitting .400 or whatever, and the next minute, baseball whispers "Oh, by the way, Daniel Murphy is going to hit .400 or whatever," and that’s just how it is for a few years. It’s a lot of fun.

One of the worst parts about baseball is how quickly we all get used to the pants being pulled down. It gets normalized so fast. We don’t even get a chance to marvel at a grown man being called Randy Johnson (The Big Unit) before it becomes a totally normal name and nickname that we’re all used to.

So it goes with R.A. Dickey, a pitcher without the proper ligaments, who showed up as a 35-year-old non-roster invitee with the Mets and angry-knuckleballed his way to a Cy Young when he was 37. Here’s a video of every third strike of his magical 2012 season.

Do you see how those aren’t normal swings? Bryce Harper swung like he was facing Aroldis Chapman from 15 feet away. Other hitters look like they’re swinging through invisible pudding. It’s humiliating. It’s spectacular. It’s the greatest show in baseball.

Well, fine, it’s at least top 20 or 30.

After five straight seasons with 200 innings pitched or more, Dickey might be slowing down. He couldn’t go deep into games a lot last year, and he missed a couple starts. It’s not that his velocity is going down, but that his reflexes are going, little by little, the same it will for all of us. But we aren’t paid to release a baseball with our fingertips at the same time with expert precision.

It’s possible that Dickey will still be around in five years, still angry-knucklin’ his way into our hearts — Phil Niekro lasted until he was 48, and Hoyt Wilhelm went until he was 49 — but do take some time and appreciate his knuckleball and unlikely story. We’ll never see the story again, but we don’t have to see the knuckleball, either.

Grant Brisbee