Astros' Altuve brings big numbers to big showcase

  • Article by: JASON GONZALEZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 15, 2014 - 12:57 AM

 

An elevated stage gave Jose Altuve a rare vantage point during Monday’s American League All-Star interview sessions. The Houston Astros’ 5-foot-6, two-time All-Star second baseman found himself perched at eye level with the occasional reporter interested in his major league-leading 130 hits.

Most of those conversations were done in Spanish. When the dialect changed to English, so did the subjects. Fellow Venezuelan All-Stars Miguel Cabrera and Felix Hernandez dominated the conversation. Altuve can be overlooked in a crowd of baseball’s megastars and big bodies, despite quickly becoming one of the game’s young stars.

A piece of Altuve is already in the Hall of Fame. Coopers­town requested the cleats he wore June 29 when he stole more than one base for a fourth consecutive game. That hadn’t been done in 97 years, since Ray Chapman in 1917.

There’s more. The 24-year-old’s 130 hits, 29 doubles and 41 stolen bases are totals no player has reached in the first half of the season since the All-Star era began in 1933, according to MLB statisticians.

The righthanded-hitting infielder enters Tuesday’s All-Star Game with the AL’s second-best batting average (.335). He ranks second in doubles and third in at-bats (388). His batting average is third in the major leagues, behind Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki and Texas’ Adrian Beltre. Altuve, however, has nearly 80 more at-bats than the pair.

“It’s an honor for [the Hall of Fame] to have my cleats,” Altuve said. “I’ve just learned that if you keep working hard and don’t pay attention to the noise, you’re going to get where you want.”

The noise in Altuve’s life has always been focused around his height. In Little League it kept him on the bench of a local all-star team. Major league teams were hesitant to sign him.

Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez said he always knew Altuve would play in the big leagues one day. Perez and Altuve last shared all-star uniforms as Little Leaguers in Venezuela. Perez, a 6-3, 245-pounder and a big body since he was young, started for the Little League team and will start in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game in place of the injured Matt Wieters. Altuve was stuck on the bench in his youth, undersized.

“Before he made the big leagues, everyone said something about his size. He’s not big. But he’s one of those guys I don’t know where to put it for the pitcher. I don’t know what to call,” Perez said.

The production is becoming too hard to ignore.

During his stretch of four consecutive games with multiple stolen bases, “SportsCenter” started a segment with a graphic showing Shaquille O’Neil and Altuve side by side. The difference was almost 2 feet. Altuve plays like a big star in his sport, though.

Earlier this season, Altuve relished the opportunity to hit fourth in the Astros’ lineup. He took a picture of the lineup card and texted it to Cabrera, the veteran Tigers slugger. Both grew up in the same town — Maracay, Venezuela. Cabrera said he’s excited to see new All-Star talent come out of his hometown, although he jokingly added that Astros manager Bo Porter is crazy for batting his smallest player at cleanup.

Altuve has plenty of support from his peers.

San Francisco All-Star outfielder Hunter Pence said it’s exciting when someone Altuve’s size walks into a clubhouse. Altuve made his major league debut hitting in front of Pence in the Astros lineup in July 2011.

“It makes it more interesting. That’s one of the cool things about baseball … tall, small, we all have different ways of getting it done,” Pence said. “He’s been spectacular, and it’s pretty amazing to watch.”

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