Brian Nicholson, El Observador de Utah
Tony Beltran of Real Salt Lake, left, is a self-admitted Mama's Boy. The defender credits her for getting where he is today.

SANDY — Tony Beltran wears his "Mama's Boy" label with pride.

"Yeah, I'll admit it," the 23-year-old Real Salt Lake defender said with a smile. "I don't think it's a fault. It's just who I am. I love her and I don't mind showing my affection for her, or her showing me her affection. I enjoy it. It's who I am and that's all that matters."

The demands of a professional sports career kept Beltran from being with his mother, Debra, on the day that is set aside to honor mothers. But this is one man who doesn't relegate his appreciation — or his affection — to a single day.

Even when the ball doesn't always bounce his way — on the field or in life — Tony Beltran knows he is blessed.

"I was really lucky growing up," said Beltran, who has one sister, Angela, 21. "Everything was always centered around my house and my family. Everyone always wanted to come to my house and hang out with my parents and play there. It was a really great atmosphere."

After a cousin (who just happens to be Mom's favorite nephew) introduced him to soccer, his parents did what they could to accommodate his appetite for the game. They were his first coaches and loudest fans.

"My parents have been so supportive since the beginning," he said. "They sacrificed so much of their time to drive me all over Southern California, and dragged my sister along."

His father, Rene, managed his first club soccer team, while his mother, a former volleyball player, was a personal trainer of sorts.

"I can remember, we grew up with a park behind my house, and my parents would always take me out there and kick the ball," he said. "My mom would say, 'I don't mind shagging balls if you want to shoot on goal.' She'd sacrifice her time just to shag balls and help me train."

It did not matter that she couldn't school her son in strategy or technique. What she offered him made him a better soccer player — and a better man.

"She's always encouraging me any way she can," he said. "She used to leave inspirational quotes from athletes taped on my desk. When I got home from school, I'd read them."

Because she'd never navigated the world of elite sports, she bought him biographies of those who had, including David Beckham.

"So I could learn from someone who'd already gone through it," he said.

When he dealt with injuries, failures and heartbreak as a teenager, his mother's love helped him avoid dangerous situations and believe there were better days ahead.

"I had some rough injuries that kept me out of some regional camps that were the next step at the time. They were some things I had worked hard for. I was dealing with that mentally, being so frustrated, and 'Why is this happening to me? It's just not fair.' My mom was always just a strength for me. She always knew what to say. She always knew how to calm me down, get me back on the right path and get me back in the right mental state."

The advice he got from both his parents hasn't changed with time or his life circumstances.

"Just to never give up," he said. "The biggest thing my mother and father preach is hard work. There is always going to be someone out there who is better than you, more gifted than you, but if I out-work him, I can achieve anything. That's was what they preached, and I think that shows in my game now."

He calls his parents after every game and listens to their advice, their praise (including compliments for his teammates). The words might be different each time, but what he hears, always, is love.

It is what he heard when she cheered him on in high school or at UCLA. Her countless hours in the stands the past two decades have made her a skilled — and vocal — fan.

"My mom is extremely, extremely vocal," he said breaking into a grin. "She's not obnoxious. She is definitely my number one supporter that's for sure. My number one fan."

Tony Beltran doesn't wait for the world to tell him when he should honor his mother. After all, she doesn't wait for a special occasion to love and support him.

She sends him a card every other week and offers to make him special breakfasts every time he's home.

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"She likes to spoil me and I let her," he said. "We hang out, just watch movies."

He sent her a "long, personal card" this week to go with the spa treatment he purchased for her this Mother's Day.

"I thank her all the time," he said without hesitation. But, since he has a public platform, he won't pass it up. And then he offers the kind of gratitude that comes from soaking in a lifetime of a mother's love.

"Thank you mom for everything," he said. "I miss you so much. I'm going to keep working hard and keep making you proud."

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