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Sports

June 16, 2012

Altuve playing big for Astros

HOUSTON —

HOUSTON -- Everyone’s Favorite Second Baseman just turned 22.

Of all his nicknames, that’s the one I like the best. Call him Pocket Jesus, El Escorpion or Mighty Mite. By any name, Jose Altuve can flat out play.

His story is so good and he plays the game so well at times that it’s tough for people to not root, root, root for him.

Did you know that Jose Altuve became the first Astros player to hit a home run and steal home in the same game earlier this season? Yeah, you did if you read Bob West’s Sunday column.

Did you know that Altuve is on pace for 48 doubles this season? That’s more than . His 40 double, 30 steal, 10 homer pace would also make him unique in MLB history and put him in the company of guys like Delino DeShields and Jimmy Rollins.

Altuve, though, would be the youngest on that list by far.

Did you know that Altuve, going into Friday’s game against Texas, led all second basemen in the majors in both batting average and hits, was second in slugging and on-base percentage and second in triples?

That’s a higher than noted sluggers like Dustin Pedroia, Brandon Phillips and Ian Kinsler.

Jose Altuve should be Everyone’s Favorite Second Baseman because he’s so much fun to watch. He hits everything in sight, is one of the toughest players in the majors to strike out, and has enough speed to make an impact on the bases. In short, he’s the perfect leadoff man.

Oh, and don’t forget his power. He’s got plenty of that, and probably enough to hit 15 homers a season at his peak. A guy hitting 40 doubles and 15 homers a year at second base sounds an awful lot like a certain future Hall of Famer that used to play in Houston.

No, not Jeff Kent. That’d be Craig Biggio.

There are so many reasons why Jose Altuve should be Everyone’s Favorite Second Baseman, and most of them don’t have anything to do with his height. But, that’s obviously going to be a starting point for any discussion about him for the near future. Altuve is listed as 5-foot-5 in the media guides, so naturally people assume he’s even shorter than that.

His height has made him famous to the point that there’s a website called HowManyAltuves.com, which has a calculator to tell you just how many Altuves it would take to measure something. Like, the distance from Minute Maid Park to Port Arthur is 86,456.7 Altuves. Or, the distance from Houston to Kansas City, host of the 2012 All-Star Game is almost 4 million Altuves.

That’s also about as wide as the actual gulf between Jose Altuve and getting into the All-Star Game this season. The second baseman probably deserves to be there, along with fellow double-play mate Jed Lowrie, as there are not two middle infielders better than the pair in all of baseball. There may be some with better reputations, but what Altuve and Lowrie are on pace to do is truly special.

Altuve is currently fifth in the All-Star fan voting, so he could use your help. His rush to popularity have made him the odds-on choice to make the roster, if we’re going by fan voting. But, if Altuve doesn’t make it that way, in favor of bigger names like Atlanta’s Dan Uggla, he’ll have to get in with either the player voting or be picked by NL manager Tony LaRussa.

In that case, Houston’s All-Star representative may be Wandy Rodriguez, who can give LaRussa a lefty out of the bullpen late in that game. But, in his first full season, Jose Altuve is certainly making a case he should be there.

The thing that makes him Everyone’s Favorite Second Baseman to me is not his size; it’s his attitude. Talking with host families who interacted with him in the minors, it’s clear what a high regard they hold him in. Altuve used to room with English-speaking teammates in the minors to prepare himself for making it to the majors. He’s hit at every level in the minors he went to and compiled over 1,000 plate appearances last season alone.

Jose Altuve just oozes passion for the game and a willingness to work to overcome all those nay-sayers. Professional scouts are paid to play the odds. They have to see players and project them four or five years down the road. They see a guy like Altuve, and he looks different than anyone else they’ve seen, so naturally, they downplay his future impact.

Last offseason, many national prospect minds were down on Altuve’s chances to contribute at the majors, saying he never walked, would never hit and would only play passable defense.

They apparently didn’t look at his minor league numbers, that saw Altuve walk between 8 and 10 percent of the time. Or that he hit for decent power at every level he was at.

Has Jose Altuve ever hinted that he’s been insulted by this kind of thinking?

Nope, he just goes out and plays hard, picking up two, three, four hits a game and then turning around and doing it again.

A friend of mine told me earlier this season that he really liked Houston infielder Marwin Gonzalez, because he had a “major-league body.” How many people in the general population can say that? Maybe 1 percent? I know I’ll never be accused of having a “major-league body.”

Jose Altuve may not have that kind of body, but he’s playing baseball at the highest level anyway. He should absolutely be held up by Little League coaches everywhere as an example of how not to let other people’s assumptions define you.

He should be that example.

He should be Everyone’s Favorite Second Baseman.

David Coleman writes features and columns for the Port Arthur News. He can be e-mailed at dcoleman@panews.com or find him on Twitter  @MDavidColeman.

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