We’re still too close.
Yes, out of devotion and loyalty most of us know our Stros can repeat as World champs. But the still, silent voice of reason, or is it doubt, responds that every World series winner thinks it will, but it almost never does. What makes the Astros different?
To that silent, doubting voice, I say: “we’re too close, we’re still too close.”
Oh, I hear the doubters. ESPN says:
“Championship hangover. This one is a gimme. The Astros are loaded…They are clear-cut favorites to win it all. Yet, as always, it will not be easy. No team has repeated this century. From a close vantage point, I watched the 2016 Cubs operate at a fever pitch for months, all the way to a title. Then I watched most of the same players stumble through half of last season as if someone had stolen the espresso machine from the clubhouse. Given the monthlong nature of the current postseason format, this hangover thing is really a thing.”
But ESPN, they’re too far away. Still, if your rejoinder comes only from your loyalty and devotion, you’re still too close. Because someday people will know, as a matter of fact, that on this team stands a bedrock core of four, each of whom will someday be remembered among the greatest players of character and leadership and inner passion that have ever struggled on the diamond. I mean the greatest; the Jeters. the Ripkins, the Bretts, Roberto Clemente, Teddy Ballgame, Joe DiMaggio, Ty Cobb.
No, I am not saying our core four are all locks as first round Hall-of-Famers. I am saying that all of the Astros core, Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman, have that kind of unquenchable, indefatigable baseball desire, that kind of character and devotion, that drove these Greats and makes anyone truly great in whatever his field of endeavor may be. If a team has even one such giant of leadership it should consider itself blessed. This team has four such players, each kissed by destiny, each driven toward and focused on perfection like few players in any generation ever are. Unlike most other champions, they will not experience that subtle, even unconscious let down that so many others do because they have experienced the glory of championship and are satisfied. Their motivation comes from somewhere much deeper and purer and more lasting than most others. It comes from a steady humility, an abiding love, dare I say a great goodness of character planted deep in their hearts, each in their own way. When you’re motivation comes from true love and pure joy, you don’t get tired.
If you are thinking I am saying this because I am just an Astros fan speaking out of loyalty and devotion, just a homer or fanboy, if you think that every good team has players of this caliber of character, then you are too close. These guys are truly special. Here’s how.
#1, They are uncommonly driven. Since about the time each could walk they have displayed a fanatical drive, as though pre-destined or reincarnated, just to play baseball. Mozart displayed this drive in music, composing his first work at age four, and by his death at age 35 he had produced 600 advanced compositions. These four baseball prodigies were, and are, similarly driven. Not for fame, glory, money, parades, the “thrill of victory,” all motives that won’t cushion a post championship letdown, but because striving for perfection is deeply ingrained in their character, it is the right thing to do, it is deep in their souls from start to finish. They cannot do otherwise.
#2, Related to the first, they play for the love of others; for their families, their communities, their people, their teammates, their fans, but especially to inspire others to overcome the difficulties and even disabilities which they themselves have overcome. These are people of uncommon goodness and humility. This too is deep in their souls. As Dallas Keuchel recently said, “We are not the Cubs. I firmly believe we have better players.” May I add, better players, because they are extraordinary people.
#3, They just love the game. So much its off the charts. They play with pure joy. They know it’s for fun and they keep it fun. They keep it light on and off the field. They don’t freeze up under pressure.
Just in case you’re still too close, or maybe just forgot, watch this clip of our Core Four destroying the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Greatest game ever played, the Astros victory in game 5 of the 2017 World Series. For what each player did in this game alone, they have earned baseball immortality.
Let’s start with Jose Altuve
- Uncommonly driven.With this tweet they said “not satisfied.”If you’ve been an Astros fan through the lean years, you may recall how almost every year conventional wisdom keeps repeating that Jose Altuve has reached his peak. For example, in 2014 Fangraphs said Altuve “looks like a fringe option.” Uh… Batting title anyone? In 2017 Fangraphs said, after his WRC+ 151 season in 2016, that “obviously, odds are high that he suffers some regression across the board after what might prove to be a career year.” Uh… MVP anyone? This year, at last, Fangraphs admits “Jose Altuve has been oddly underrated….” By them. But also by most everybody throughout his career. Despite a meteoric rise through the minors, he was never a top 100 prospect. Why?
Because sabermetrics can’t measure heart and desire. As Alex Rodriguez put it, “they talk about his height, but they don’t talk about the size of his heart, his courage, his discipline…Here is a guy who has a heart of a lion.”
A lion is born a lion. Let Jose’s wonderful, beautiful parents explain what kind of baseball lion heart pounded in the chest of their four year old son.
“Jose was in love with the sport and that is why he is driven.” Carlos Altuve (father)
Of course every baseball fan knows by now the story of 15 year old, 5’5″, 140 lb. Jose being rejected at the Astros tryout, only to come back the next day and win a $15,000 signing bonus. Here is a picture of the boy the Astros signed.
What many people don’t know is that he had already been rejected by seven other teams prior to the Astros tryout. The Angels, Tampa Bay, the Cubs, Giants, Braves, A’s, Yankees. Sure Jose, you can hit, you can run, but you’re too small. Still he kept coming back. What impressed the Astros scout Al Pedrique about Jose was his “desire.” When Pedrique asked a local scout, Wally Ramos, if Altuve played that hard every game, Ramos said, “that’s him. Doesn’t matter who’s watching. Doesn’t matter how many people are in the stands. He loves to play the game.” As Pedrique later said: “its amazing what this kid has accomplished all because of hard work and dedication.”
“I know I’m short. I know it isn’t going to be easy, but in my heart I know I can make it in the United States.” Jose Altuve
How does a man his size get the strength to hit 24 home runs, or have the 7th highest Slugging pct. In the AL? Here’s how.
“The important thing about Jose is his drive.” Felix Pacheco (personal trainer)
George Brett once said, when asked how he wanted to be remembered, “I want to be remembered grounding out to second base , and running it out all the way.” That’s Altuve.
“He doesn’t take any games or any plays off.” Jeff Luhnow
After his tryout Altuve played in the Venezuelan summer league. Like Roy Hobbs in the Natural, who they wouldn’t let play because he was too old, Altuve rarely played in the beginning because he was too small. They called him Enano, the midget.
As his manager, Omar Lopez tells it: “Altuve was playing every three days. We called him Enano. We had a scout named Johan Maya. Every day he said ‘you’ve got to put the midget in.’ So one day I said, ‘OK he’s going to play two days in a row.’ The rest is history.”
“I remember a team we were playing—the first pitch was a breaking ball. Altuve took it. The second pitch, another breaking ball. It was low. And the manager got up and said, ‘Come on, man. Stop throwing breaking balls to this little guy. Throw him a fastball.’ The next pitch was a fastball, and Altuve hit a bullet off the right calf of the pitcher. They pulled him out of the game.” Next at bat this same manager told his outfielders to move in, and of course Enano hit a double over their heads.
When Altuve was promoted from A to AA, the Hooks team President told Reid Ryan, “You won’t believe this guy who just came up. Everyone thinks this kid is the batboy, but he can hit. He can hit any pitch.”
The following clip is a testimonial by coaches, players and the team owner to Altuve’s work ethic, and its importance to the entire team
“He leads by example, and he leads by his hard work and dedication.” Jim Crane
So now that Jose Altuve is the acknowledged best player in the American League, what is his reaction and what are his plans for next year? With characteristic humility and unbelievable understatement he says, “You feel like you did something for your team. When they gave me the MVP, it was like: ‘OK, I was part of this. I love it.’ THAT MAKES YOU KEEP WORKING HARD AND TRYING TO GET BETTER.”
As his coach says, “when one of your best players or your best player is your best examples, it’s something to hold on to and something to treasure as a coach or a manager. I don’t have to worry about guys playing hard. I don’t have to worry about energy. I don’t have to worry about attention to detail primarily because there’s guys like Jose that are BUILT THAT WAY.” Notice the plural. Its Jose, but It’s not just Jose.
But before we move on, let’s look some more at Altuve and point #2.
- Playing for the love of others/ inspiring others by overcoming hardships.Yes of course, Jose Altuve had to overcome his size to become a major league star. But one more point. Many people have concluded that because of Jose small stature is not an impediment in baseball. I disagree. All those scouts and other experts paid to find talent who doubted Altuve were not just bigots. A major league baseball player needs great strength, and it is hard to carry that kind of strength on a 5’ 6″ frame. That is why 140 lb. boxers don’t fight with 200 lb. boxers. Altuve’s success is due to certain natural talents but is mainly due to his indomitable will and ceaseless struggle to overcome. And this struggle still motivates him. Now he fights for those with the same struggle.“Jose’s biggest struggle was that every day he had to show that he could play.” Carlos Altuve (dad)
“I never doubted myself because I already had too many other people doubting,” Altuve said. “I wanted to prove those people wrong. And not because one day I could tell them they were wrong. I wanted to prove them wrong for the guys behind me who are short too. Guys who are not really strong, not really tall, guys who are 14 to 16 right now who are very small and want to get an opportunity. And I know maybe after that happened to me scouts now will think twice before telling someone, you’re not going to make it. They’re going to think, this guy is the same size as Jose, and if Jose made it, maybe one of these guys can make it too.
But his size was not Altuve’s only obstacle. Altuve came from poverty in his native Maracay, Venezuela, and he has never forgotten his people or where he came from.
Young Jose was so poor he had to play baseball with only one ball. When that ball got lost he had to scrounge to find another. This is how he tells it.
“Sometimes getting a ball isn’t that easy.” Jose Altuve
Apparently, Jose had to play a lot of baseball without any bat or ball. In his community they played stickball hitting beer caps. From this video you can see how good they were at it. And you can see where Jose learned his hand eye coordination as well.
“With a beer cap you can throw any pitch you want, a slider, a curve.” Jose Altuve
The following video shows how Jose was raised. With a deep love and caring about his community and his countrymen. He understands how important he is to so many people and his obligation to that community which helped make him what he is. He embraces the opportunity to give back, and to inspire others. He shows that same love to his teammates, and in their time of need, to the people of Houston.
“I say Jose is a better person than he is a ballplayer.” Carlos Altuve (brother)
A big part of Jose’s humility and willingness to share and help others is his faith in God. “To achieve success wasn’t to get into the major leagues or have the best season in the world. The best success is to live your life the way God wants you to…I thank God every day.”
- Keeping it lightAs Dallas Keuchel put it, “the more you get to know him, the greater you think he is…He’s a leader in the clubhouse. He’s a guy who can make you laugh at any point in time. He loves music; he’s always singing and dancing.”Altuve loves to joke. “I have more power than you and I’m half your size.” So says Jose to 6’ 4″ Jake Marisnick. Jake knows it’s in fun, but notes, “as good as he is on the field, off the field he’s even better. I’ve respected him since I got here, He was one of the first guys to take me aside and get to know me.”Or as George Springer put it, “he just makes you… happy.”