16-year-old Altuve to scout: 'I just want a chance'
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HOUSTON -- Al Pedrique is the first-base coach for the Oakland Athletics, a baseball lifer who has worked as an instructor, scout, manager and administrator over the past four decades.
Through the years, he has watched more players than he can count. Signed some of 'em, released some others and offered advice to pretty much all of them. He'll be the first to admit he has missed on plenty of guys.
And there was that one day in 2007 when Pedrique, who at the time was a special assistant for the Astros, telephoned his bosses and made his pitch for a 16-year-old Venezuelan infielder named José Altuve.
Sometimes, Pedrique told them, you just know.
"How much money do we have for this kid?" he asked.
Wait, what? You told us his defense needs work. You told us he's small. Is he strong enough to play?
Sometimes, you just know. All these years later, that's his best explanation for why his belief in Altuve was so strong.
"I remember our first conversation," Pedrique said Friday as the Astros and Athletics prepared to open a three-game series at Minute Maid Park. "I asked him, 'Can you play?' He looked me in the eye and said, 'I'll show you.'"
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The Astros had been reluctant to invite Altuve into their Venezuelan academy, turning him away at least twice. His perseverance got him inside the door, which is the first small step.
After that, it was Pedrique who pushed to sign him to a Minor League contract. He was so persuasive that the Astros freed up a whopping $15,000 bonus, mostly because Pedrique believed in him and Pedrique's good name alone was worth that much.
Pedrique's pitch had been simple.
"I love his bat, I love his speed," Pedrique said. "We don't have anything to lose."
But it really was the things he'd seen that had nothing to do with bat speed. Sometimes, you just know.
When Pedrique presented the offer to Altuve and his parents, he figured there'd be some negotiating. There was none.
"I will sign the contract," Altuve said. "I just want a chance."
You know the rest of the story.
Altuve was in the big leagues four years later at 21. He won the first of three batting titles in 2014 and has led the American League in hits the past four seasons, averaging 211 a season. Since Opening Day 2014, Altuve has 884 hits, which is 112 more than any other Major League player (Charlie Blackmon is next at 772).
Altuve is also a five-time All-Star who helped the Astros win the World Series last fall and captured the 2017 AL Most Valuable Player Award. Now 28, he signed a six-year, $150 million contract extension before the start of Spring Training.
Weekends like this, when both men are in the same ballpark, are special.
"When not too many people were willing to give me the opportunity, he was the one who believed in me," Altuve said. "I feel like I need to thank him every single day for what he did."
All you wanted was a chance, right?
"He gave me more than a chance," Altuve said. "He pushed for me all the way through the Minor Leagues. I thank him every time I talk to him. This guy was the one. He really helped me to develop and become a better player."
When that praise is mentioned to Pedrique, he shrugs it off. He helped Altuve with some technical things like fielding balls hit to his right and doing drills to strengthen his arm.
In the end, Altuve had two gifts that could not be coached: freakishly quick hands to get the bat into the hitting zone and an intense drive to succeed.
"When I saw him walk on the field about the third day, I told our guys we had to find a way to keep this kid," Pedrique said. "You could tell. He's all heart. He was a great teammate.
"For a guy that was only 16, he took charge in the English classes, he took charge in the gym. He made sure the guys were on the field on time. For me, that's an indication somehow this kid was going to be a player."
In the years since, Pedrique has held a variety of jobs with several organizations, at both the Minor League and Major League level. Men like Pedrique build hundreds of special relationships over the years, none of them more special than the one he has with the Astros' superstar.
"It's like he's my son," Pedrique said. "He went against all the odds. He deserves all the credit. He spends hours on the field getting better. The trust and the belief he had in himself was amazing.
"Some people thought he was a cocky little hotdog from Venezuela. I kept telling people, 'Just give him a chance. He loves to play the game.'"
Pedrique and his wife, Marla, were at home last fall when the final play of Game 7 of the World Series was a grounder to Altuve. He fielded the ball and tossed to first baseman Yuli Gurriel to ignite a wild celebration from the infield at Dodger Stadium to the streets of Houston.
"I got goosebumps," Pedrique said. "My wife loves him, too. He's our guy. We're very proud of him."