Even more astounding? He’s humble, respectful, and a joy to be around - and while he knows he’s short he doesn’t need, nor want, to talk about it. He JUST plays.
And he hasn’t forgotten his roots.
His country, Venezuela, is in dire straits, but to a person they revere baseball and this hard-working, tremendously skilled athlete, from the town of Maracay - as a stellar bright light - in an otherwise dim milieu.
So how has this beacon reacted? He’s taken a sledge hammer and whacked the heck out of huge tires, and, when younger, took a stick, no thicker than one’s big toe, and whacked a swerving disc/stone/object, no bigger than one’s thumbnail...um, now why?
Well, to hone his bat-to-ball, hand-eye, skills.
Such outside-of-the-box routines, work. He’s threatening to usurp Josh Donaldson in the MVP throne.
Altuve is mainly marvelous. Since breaking into the league in 2011 he’s been a four-time All-Star. How remarkable is that? More remarkable is he being the first Houston Astro - EVER - to be batting champion. The guy is what, 26?
This max-mojo man has Hall of Fame written all over him. He would join his idol, Ken Griffey Junior, there. But with a quantitative difference: Altuve would bring “Altuves.” “Altuves” is now, you should know, a recognized measurement of distance!
We must, like the Astros executives, trot out the cliché superlatives. They ARE worth repeating.
He runs hard to first base every time. He sets an example more by deeds than by words. He’s focused. He does his homework; witness his work and rep-swings in the batting tunnel, hitting balls placed low, medium, and high off the tee. He has oodles of talent, tons of desire, makes his teammates better. He’s tough. He has great range defensively and can steal bases like nobody’s business offensively (but he may be too aggressive on the base paths when trying to stretch singles to doubles, doubles to triples, etc., and he was ejected for the first time in his major league career after arguing strikes on August 6th - but these are small potatoes admittedly...) He respects the game and willingly, or unwittingly, is changing it.
Heck, he’s changing us.
Many of us have been told we’re too small, or too short, or too this, or too that – and we’ve been jubilantly jolted by this 2015 Gold Glove and 2014 and 2015 Silver Slugger guy, who is breaking stereotypes and, in his so doing, is giving us, in all walks of life, hope and confidence.
He’s a force.
Hey, being a force, say, back in Maracay, the Garden City, a perfect place set amongst the mountains and enveloped in ideal weather, means nothing, of course, when playing pickup ball with friends and family. His team will sometimes lose. Venezuelans, friend or foe, play for keeps.
Apart from having his head screwed on right, he parts, through giving back to the old neighborhood, baseballs - for the kids to play with (and don’t think this is chintzy – it is symbolically significant for him; when he’d practice with his dad after the latter finished work, they’d often have just one ball: If he hit Dad’s pitch out of the park, they’d have to fetch it - could it be why his first major league homer was an inside-the-park-shot? If he fouled it off into the neighborhood, they’d have to figure out how to get it back) so he knows the intrinsic value of the simple, yet essential, baseball.
Undoubtedly he gives more, materially, than just baseballs, but this is for sure: he gives the most precious commodity going to his homeland, his time.
Speaking of time, remember the movie, Field of Dreams? When Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) told ball-park creator Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) that Ty Cobb was basically a jerk, and that everybody hated his guts?
Well, put José with Ty, not in the reviled respect, but in this esteemed regard: since the 20th century to now only these two have had “...220-plus hits, 55-plus extra-base hits, and 55-plus stolen bases in one season.”
And each season, Altuves, all of 170 pounds, proves to be a gamer, game in and game out. He could have sat out the last contest of 2014 to preserve his lead in the batting championship race BUT he told coach, Tom Lawless, no way José, he wanted to play - and prove, on the field, that he deserved the honor. He got two hits to retain his lead and reap his laurels – so small wonder he is - and was - allowed in Houston’s dressing room...to mangle, via, Karaoke: The Backstreet Boys – I Want it That Way!
And in one way, being short has one big advantage: a smaller strike zone. (Perhaps 5 foot eight Blue Jays’ pitcher, Marcus Stroman, might circle that small square – though in five at-bats, Altuves is averaging .400 against the Jay’s ace...)
Definitely Altuve and teammates want the Astros to change their defeatist ways. They lost 107 games in 2012, 111 in 2013, and 92 in 2014 - awfulness hard to ably articulate... but they did make the playoffs in 2015.
Thus, now - led by a little guy - littler than some little leaguers, with huge results (11 of his homers this season have been 400 feet or more - and he reached the 1,000 hit mark faster than any Astro before him) who shows gargantuan potential - given his regimen and discipline - and who can largely hit to all fields, and bash the ball facing either righties or lefties – has his professional team, his adopted city, and his beloved native country facing the baseball future with unrestrained optimism and expectant elation.