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Playing ball in Venezuela helped shape Altuve

HOUSTON -- Astros second baseman Jose Altuve is the same happy-go-lucky guy he was growing up in Venezuela. He still plays baseball on a daily basis like he did on the streets and fields of Maracay, except he does it for a living these days.

Altuve, who made the National League All-Star team this year as a 22-year-old, is one of a long list of talented players to have reached the Major Leagues from Venezuela. The Astros signed him as a 16-year-old after initially turning him away from a tryout because of his lack of size.

The days of playing baseball with his friends and his brother back home helped shape Altuve into the player that he is today.

"It was really good for me," he said. "Venezuela is a really good country that has everything. I had a lot of fun with my friends, growing up and playing baseball everywhere -- in the street, in the field. I've got good memories about that."

Boys growing up in Venezuela were usually drawn to baseball pretty quickly, and Altuve was no different. He was always doing something with a ball, he said, whether it was playing baseball or softball with a tennis ball or any kind of makeshift orb.

"We didn't have one day where we didn't play baseball," Altuve said. "That's why I'm here playing in the big leagues right now."

Altuve tore up the Venezuelan Summer League in 2007 and came to the U.S. in '08. He won team Most Valuable Player honors at rookie league Greeneville in 2009 by hitting .324, and split the '10 season between Class A Lexington and Class A Lancaster.

Altuve returned to Lancaster in 2011 and was hitting .408 with 19 stolen bases before being promoted to Double-A Corpus Christi, where he hit .361 before the Astros came calling after only 35 games at that level. He was Houston's lone representative at the All-Star Game this year.

"I grew up watching a lot of players, but my favorites are Omar Vizquel and [Marco] Scutaro," Altuve said. "They're both infielders and both little. I just saw those two guys and I really liked the way played."

Altuve met Vizquel last year in winter ball, which was a thrill. He had the chance to play against Scutaro earlier this season. Altuve is also proud of the accomplishments of countrymen Carlos Gonzalez and Miguel Cabrera.

"We have a lot of players right now in the big leagues, some really good players," Altuve said. "I think we have more coming up next year. That's going to be really good."

Altuve calls Venezuela home and plans to play some winter ball once again this year. More importantly, the offseason trip home gives him a chance to spend time with his family and friends and embrace the roots of when he fell in love with the game.

"They've always believed in me," Altuve said of his family and friends. "Like the first time I signed with the Astros and I was playing in the Venezuelan Summer League, and even now when I'm in the big leagues."

Houston Astros, Jose Altuve