Correa sets high expectations, on and off field

Astros shortstop takes notes from MVPs, aims to be more than an athlete

March 22nd, 2016

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- If you believe in the power of MVP osmosis, in the contagiousness of clout, then nothing Astros shortstop Carlos Correa has done on the field this spring -- and he's done plenty -- is as important as what he's done with his downtime.

What Correa has done with his downtime is attend a couple Orlando Magic games and rub elbows with the NBA elite when they've rolled through town -- Steph Curry in late February and LeBron James last week. These are the signature stars of their sport, decorated with both individual and team hardware.

"I hope it's contagious," Correa said Tuesday, before hitting a two-run homer in the Astros' 8-7 win over the Braves at Osceola County Stadium. "You've got to hang out with people like that. You've got to listen to good advice from people like that who are successful MVPs."

Whether baseball's 21-year-old reigning American League Rookie of the Year Award winner will one day rate as recognizable in the sporting world at large as Curry and LeBron is a matter that can only be determined with time. But Correa is already one of Major League Baseball's most important players, because of how he performs, what he represents and what he stands for.

Correa takes pride in being the first No. 1 overall Draft pick out of Puerto Rico. It's one reason why he wears No. 1 -- as appropriate a numerical assignment as you can find in this game, given Correa's value to an Astros team on the rise.

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But while Correa eagerly embraces his influence on an island that is slowly re-establishing itself as a baseball power, he is aware of the impact he can have on Latin American players as a whole.

Correa views himself not just as an athlete but an ambassador, and his focal point is the English language.

"Look at the best players in the game right now," he said. "You can name on one hand the number of players who are bilingual and on top of the game right now."

It's a prudent point at a time when MLB, with the encouragement of Yankees star Carlos Beltran, has just begun implementing a league-wide Spanish-language translator program.

"The interpreter is great," Correa said. "If the players need help with something, it's great. But sometimes they're laid back and don't try as hard to learn English because they have a translator, and that will make their life easier. Nothing good comes easy, and there's no elevator to success. You've got to take the stairs. For Latin players to be successful, they've got to speak more English."

That success, Correa said, encompasses more than just communication with teammates and with reporters.

"When you're in your first couple [pre-arbitration] years, you can make more money off the field than on the field," Correa said. "But you've got to know how to speak English to do that. I want to be able to translate that to them. Every time I talk to Latin players coming up in the system, I tell them, 'You need to learn English. There's a lot of stuff you can do off the field that can help you and your family off the field.'"

Correa began taking English lessons when he was in the fourth grade. It was part of a childhood filled with early indoctrination to adulthood. Correa began helping his father on construction sites when he was 8 years old, and his dad, Carlos Sr., imbued in him an attitude of respect for hard work and for other human beings.

The Astros are past the point of marveling how Correa handles celebrity. They simply appreciate it and at times try to rescue Correa from his own willingness to take on the many requests that come his way. On the morning we spoke, Correa also did an interview with Sports Illustrated and an interview for a book about athletes' nutrition programs -- all before 9 a.m.

The Astros' PR people have had to turn some requests away just to keep their young shortstop from getting totally overwhelmed. But Correa, understanding of his growing place in the game's hierarchy of heroes, is gracious, attentive and articulate whenever he has time available.

"My dad taught me how to be a good person," he said. "I just care about business, and what I love to do. I love to play baseball. And when you love something, you want to do the best you can. So I feel like I always want to do the best, I always want to be the best.

"I don't even know how to explain it. It's just me."

"Just me" is just enough.

One of the silliest discussion points in baseball in recent years was "Who will be the next Derek Jeter?" when the Yankees' captain retired. At present, especially in a game predicated upon October unpredictability, it's impossible to imagine another Jeter -- a player who came of age as a Hall of Fame-worthy performer just as the Yankees established an era of dynastic dominance in the country's largest media market. That's not likely to happen again. Or at least not any time soon.

And simply as a function of how these respective sports operate, Correa will also struggle to obtain the "Q Score" of the NBA icons he's encountered.

"In basketball, every superstar is successful every single night," Correa said. "In baseball, that's just not going to happen. A bad game for Curry is, what, like 20 points? In basketball, you get the ball all the time, you're the man and if you can shoot like him … you know? In baseball, you're not going to hit a home run every single day or drive in two runs every single day. Baseball would be a lot easier if it could be hitting BP and then running."

But Correa makes it appear easy in his own way. He's already the first player in history to crank out 22 homers and 45 extra-base hits in his first 99 games. This spring, Correa is hitting .414 with three homers, two doubles and seven RBIs in 11 games.

Correa, though, is paying far more attention to what he's done defensively in this camp, as that is almost certainly the area of his game with more room for growth. He is gifted going to his left but is working on his reads off the bat when going to his right, and he's been pleased with his performance in that area this spring.

For Correa, all of this -- the defensive advancement, the offensive approach, the representation of an idea bigger than himself -- is part of an admittedly ambitious end goal.

"What I dreamed about and visualized as a kid was being one of the best players in the game, if not the best, and helping a lot of people along the way," he said. "It's not just about how good I can be on the field. It's about how good I can be off the field, too."