Audience will fall in love with Altuve
Astros' AL MVP candidate always smiling, bringing joy to fans
LOS ANGELES -- Our youngest daughter, Katie, likes making lists. She will, at random times, list off her favorite movies or her favorite candy bars or her Hamilton songs. Lately, she's been listing off her favorite baseball players.
And each time she does it, Jose Altuve moves up two or three spots.
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"How small is he?" she asks.
"Is he always this happy?" she asks.
"How is he so good?" she asks.
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Many things will come out of this World Series, of course, but one thing you can bet on is that America, all at once, will fall in love with Jose Altuve.
"I don't know any more ways to describe Jose," his manager A.J. Hinch said, "other than he's as close to perfect as you can imagine."
That's right. That gets it. Sure, I can thrill you with Altuve's story. He's listed at 5-foot-6; he's probably not that tall. He's listed at 165 pounds; he probably does not weight that much. He showed up at an Astros tryout in his home country of Venezuela ... and was told to go home because he was too small. He showed up for the next tryout, and the Astros signed him for $15,000, perhaps out of admiration for his sheer nerve.
He was no prospect. He hit .300 in his first full year in Class A ball, and Baseball America did not rank him among the Top 30 prospects for the Astros. The next year, he hit .408 in Class A, got moved up to Double-A and hit .361 there, and the Astros finally said: "Wait, who is this guy?"
He came up to the big leagues and made the All-Star team in his first full season.
Sure, I can blind you with amazing statistics about Altuve, tell you that he has led the AL in hits each of the past four seasons, led the AL in batting average three times, led the AL in stolen bases twice. I can tell you that he has hit five home runs already this postseason, which is only three short of the all-time single-postseason record held by three players, one of them a guy named Barry Bonds.
I can give you all sorts of advanced stats about leading the AL in Wins Above Replacement and Power-Speed number, and I can tell you that he does everything well, absolutely everything.
But the thing is all that somehow undersells Altuve. Because watching him play baseball is so uplifting, so joyful, so good for the soul. That's his gift. This is why every time our 12-year-old daughter Katie watches him play, Altuve moves up on her favorite player list. She is still learning all the rules of baseball. But she is utterly mesmerized by him.
"He has the greatest hand-eye coordination that I've ever seen," teammate Dallas Keuchel said.
Keuchel was in the Minor Leagues with Altuve, and, happily, what he remembers is the non-stop chatter of Altuve.
"He hadn't really hit puberty yet, and so he sounded different," Keuchel said. "He sounded like he shouldn't even have been playing baseball. And I remember him in the back of the bus and I was toward the front, and I'm like, Who is this guy who won't stop talking in the back?'"
So fun and wonderful. Everything about him is so fun and wonderful. My friend Michael Schur, executive producer of NBC's "The Good Place," and I have made a list of five people who just make America a better place. It's a fluid list, but at the moment it looks like this (in alphabetical order):
All of them make everything better for so many reasons, but one is the surprise they inspire. No matter how many times you have seen it before, no matter how many times you have seen Curry sink a 35-footer or reread a Harry Potter passage or hear a Hamilton song, it feels new and brilliant.
So it is with Altuve. Every time he crushes a baseball, every time he flies around the bases, every time he makes a diving play on a ground ball, every time he cracks a line drive on a pitch that seems a foot over his head, it feels like a, uh, small miracle.
"He does everything right," Hinch says as he searches for words big enough to full express Altuve's wonder.
America will find out. Much of America already knows all about Altuve -- he is the possible American League MVP this year -- but there's something different about the World Series. This is the time when so many people really check in to baseball for the first time. This is the brightest light and the biggest stage, and it will be so much fun as America finds out that the biggest star might just be the smallest guy on the field.