HOUSTON -- When a young outfielder named Carlos Beltran landed at Minute Maid Park halfway through the 2004 season, he stepped into a clubhouse that had a huge veteran presence. Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Roy Oswalt, Brad Ausmus and Jeff Kent were accomplished stars who had seen everything in the game.
Beltran, a budding star at only 27 who possessed every tool on the field to be great, soaked in the experience. He listened and learned from a group with Hall of Fame resumes and watched how they did things on and off the field. Now he's come full circle at 39, returning to the Astros 12 years later as one of the veterans a young team will depend upon.
"I take a lot of pride in that," said Beltran, who signed a one-year, $16 million deal in December. "When you're a veteran player and have played the game for such a long time, you gain experience. I take it personal. I want to help the younger guys. I want to impact the kids and the younger guys in a very positive way on and off the field. I'm a guy that understands my responsibility as a player, but also my responsibility as a teammate, that I take very seriously."
Beltran, a 19-year veteran who's played in 55 career postseason games, isn't the only newcomer bringing experience and leadership to the Astros. The team traded for veteran catcher Brian McCann and signed veteran outfielder Josh Reddick -- two more players who have seen a little of everything.
"I think there are certain things you have to experience in the big leagues in order to understand, and when you have more guys as resources for younger players to bounce things off of or have been there, done that, I think that will be key," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.
Hinch cited the exchange in Game 7 of the World Series between Cubs teammates Anthony Rizzo and David Ross as an example of the importance of leadership. During the game, Rizzo was overheard on television admitting to the veteran Ross that he was nervous. Ross appeared unnerved.
"You have to have lived it and felt it and breathed it," Hinch said. "It's nice to have that, as long as they're giving the right message. Veteran players come from different points of view, but what veteran players do, if you haven't won and you know your time is coming to an end, you would be amazed at what you will do to win. And those veteran players understand what it takes to conquer a season and do winning things or create winning baseball."
Beltran helps the team chemistry and culture, and not just with the Latin American players. Beltran is loose and playful behind the scenes, but is stoic, quiet and professional on the field. All the while, he continues to want to learn and give back.
"His addition helps our lineup, it does help our chemistry and our culture," Hinch said. "I think there's a great professionalism around him that will rub off on our team. As the makeup of our team changes, we'll look at Beltran as one of the most revered veterans on our team."
The Astros weren't void of leadership last season. Dallas Keuchel, Jose Altuve and Luke Gregerson provided leadership in their own way, but they haven't built resumes as long as Reddick, McCann and especially Beltran.
"To defend the guys that are coming back, we didn't have a total leadership problem," Hinch said. "I think we had different styles of leaders and maybe not as credentialed as leaders on our team. Colby [Rasmus] and Carlos Gomez and Luis [Valbuena] and Jason Castro provided stability and that was the makeup of the 2015 playoff team.
"So I don't want to disrespect Altuve. He's a terrific leader in his own way. George Springer brings a lot of energy. It's just that these guys bring decades of stability to a clubhouse. They could walk into any clubhouse in the big leagues, let alone the Astros, and command the respect that comes with a long-tenured career."
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.