Astros All-Star chatter has to begin with Jose Altuve.
I fully admit it. Exactly one year ago, I had no idea who Jose Altuve was.
Other than a couple of mentions by friends who follow the Minor League system pretty closely — “Seriously, there’s this little guy, an infielder, who’s playing Single-A and hitting like .400,” they’d tell me — Altuve’s meteoric ascent through the Astros’ Minor League system in 2011 barely grabbed my attention. There was all of that excitement on the Major League level to worry about, after all.
But the more I heard about Altuve, the more I learned about him, and the more I started paying attention. It became pretty obvious, fairly quickly, this was a kid not to be ignored. Altuve was intriguing not only because he seemed to reach base every at-bat, but because of how tall he was — or, more accurately, wasn’t. Altuve was listed at 5-foot-7. He’s really 5-foot-5.
Understandably, really short guys hitting for a really high average creates quite a spectacle.
Altuve was promoted to Corpus in the middle of the season, and I took a drive down to meet him and some other top prospects. One of the first things I said to Altuve was, “Let’s get this out of the way. I know everyone wants to talk to you about your height. Humor me for a few minutes and then we’ll move on to your hitting.”
The thing that struck me about Altuve, even more than his intelligence and firm grasp of the English language, was his poise, and how unfazed he was by his physical stature. He’s been reminded hundreds of times that he’s short. His answer is something like this, “Look, I know I’m short. I’ve known myself my whole life. I know what I look like. You’re not telling me anything new.”
He first tried out for the Astros as a 16-year-old in Venezuela, and the Astros sent him home, telling him — yep, you guessed it — that he was too small to have a legitimate shot at playing in the big leagues. But Altuve persisted, and eventually, it was enough for the Astros to take a serious look at him. That was six years ago.
Altuve played in the Futures Game during All-Star Week last July. If the first month of the season is any indication, it’s very possible he could represent the Astros in Kansas City at the All-Star Game this year. Only seven players have appeared in the Futures Game one year and the All-Star Game the following season: Adam Dunn, Neftali Feliz, Jason Heyward, Francisco Liriano, Evan Longoria, Ben Sheets and Geovany Soto. Could Altuve be No. 8?
Entering Monday’s game, he was leading all Major League second basemen with a .352 batting average. His 15 multi-hit games were tops in the National League, and he was tied for third in with 38 hits.
Altuve will probably continue to have his detractors who will look at the stat sheet, size him up and say, “He can’t keep this up.” No big deal. He’s heard that before.
He just thinks back to the conversation he had with the Astros scout who decided to take a chance on him at that tryout six years ago. “Just do what you know how to do,” Altuve was told.
“This,” Altuve answered, gesturing to the field, “is what I know how to do.”
And now he’s found a home in Houston.