HOUSTON -- Jose Altuve is about to be a five-time All-Star and the American League starter at second base for a third straight year. To him, this is still just the beginning."I don't think it's that hard to have one good season -- just one," Altuve said. "To come back
HOUSTON -- Jose Altuve is about to be a five-time All-Star and the American League starter at second base for a third straight year. To him, this is still just the beginning.
"I don't think it's that hard to have one good season -- just one," Altuve said. "To come back every year and be consistent, it's tough. That's the player I want to be.
"I want to be like Robinson Cano, who shows up every year and puts up the numbers. He has done it for 10-12-13 years. I want to do that. It's not easy, but that's my goal."
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Altuve feels that way about the Midsummer Classic, too. He's the guy who kept getting sent home from tryout camps in his native Venezuela until the Astros finally took a chance on him.
Now, to be able to stand on the field in Miami on July 11 for the MLB All-Star Game presented by Mastercard with the best of the best is an honor that will never get old.
"I was talking to Nelson Cruz the other day about the All-Star Game," Altuve said. "It doesn't matter how many times you've been or how many years you've been in the big leagues, you want to be there.
"Look at [Miguel] Cabrera: He has been to 11. I'm pretty sure he wants to make this one. That's the thing you want during the season. It's when you know you're doing good. To get that honor from the fans is really special. This year is going to be more special because we're going to have more than two players in the All-Star Game."
Besides Altuve, the 52-26 Astros could have shortstop Carlos Correa and outfielder George Springer starting their first All-Star Games as the final round of Esurance MLB All-Star Game Ballots are cast by the 11:59 p.m. ET Thursday cutoff.
When Altuve's teammates and his manager are asked about him, they do not begin with All-Star Games, two batting titles or any of that. Instead, they talk about his professionalism, his work ethic and his burning desire to be great.
"He's never pleased with his performance," Correa said. "He could be hitting .340, and he'd say that. The other day, he says, 'Correa, I haven't been feeling good at the plate.' But he was hitting .320. That tells you something. He'll never get complacent. It's addictive. I get some of that when I hear him talk like that. You want to take a thing or two from him."
Springer added: "He's a pro. He has worked for everything he has. He's been told no. He's been told he's not going to be good enough. Two batting titles and three Silver Sluggers [and a Gold Glove] later, he's a great guy to be like. He plays hard. He plays for the team. He's 100 percent every night. I love the guy."
Once or twice a season -- usually after it -- Altuve said he takes a moment to reflect on how much he has accomplished.
First, here's the backstory: Altuve was sent away from a tryout camp in his native Venezuela in 2006.
Finally, after returning a second day and seeing the Astros were a player short for a camp game, he got a chance.
Afterwards, the Astros offered him a contract. Other teams had praised his quick hands and instincts, but they were put off by his 5-foot-6 height.
Big mistake. Altuve hit from the moment he stepped on a field. He hit throughout the Minor Leagues and batted .276 during his rookie season in 2011. He compiled a .285 career batting average after three Major League seasons. As good as that was, he felt he was capable of more.
That offseason, Altuve lost weight, poured himself into a conditioning program, and with the help of former Astros hitting coach John Mallee (now with the Cubs), honed a daily program of indoor batting work, film study and more conditioning.
Altuve won the first of two batting titles by hitting .341 in 2014, and since then, he has been amazingly productive. His 736 hits since Opening Day 2014 are 99 more than any other Major Leaguer (Cano has 637). His .330 batting average in those three-plus seasons is the highest in the big leagues by 17 points.
Even this season, when Altuve has been fed an assortment of offspeed pitches, his production has remained remarkably consistent. He entered play on Wednesday hitting .324, third-highest in the AL. His .396 on-base percentage was also the third highest in the AL.
"He's as good an all-around hitter as I've ever been around -- or ever seen," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "He can handle any pitch, any time, any location. He can handle bad balls. He can handle balls in the strike zone. Breaking balls don't bother him.
"He's goes into every game with a really strict plan on what he's trying to do. More times than not, he executes it. The frustrating part for teams facing him is there's no one way to get him out. Even Major League hitters, you can find a hole that you can attack. [With] Jose, it's as much a mystery to us as it is to our opponents.
"Should you shift him? Should you throw him breaking balls? Should you attack him with fastballs? We've seen guys pitch him in, and he's hit the ball almost out of the stadium. We've seen guys pitch around him, and he'll draw a walk. All of that impact has really started to show up more consistently the last couple of years."
Altuve's 1,138 career hits at the age of 27 give him a chance to do things most players can only dream of. Everything begins with some of the quickest hands in baseball and the ability to adjust to almost any pitch.
"I think the most impressive thing is how he finds the barrel of the bat so often," Astros reliever Luke Gregerson said. "Quick hands. Good hand-to-eye. Makes sure he finds the ball. You get exactly what you would think you'd get. You see how hard he works. You expect him to succeed."
Altuve's also a great teammate and an accountable one. Hinch remembers a conversation he had with Altuve after the Royals eliminated the Astros in a 2015 AL Division Series.
"It's how he's built," Hinch said. "When we lost to the Royals, he came in my office and was very upset and took complete responsibility for not playing well during the series.
"I wanted to remind him, `You're the reason we're here, not the reason we lost.' I hope that type of approach never goes away. It's why fans love him. It's why teammates love him. It's why he's a manager's favorite to represent us around the game."
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice