All Altuve needed was a chance ... and $15K

October 20th, 2019

HOUSTON -- Almost immediately, it was obvious to some that 16-year-old was different.

“Sometimes, you just have a feel about a guy,” Al Pedrique said. “With others, you can see it.”

The year was 2007, and Pedrique was one of the Astros' main talent evaluators in Venezuela. In the years since, he has held a variety of jobs in baseball, most recently as third-base coach for the A’s the last two seasons.

Altuve stood out for reasons that had nothing to do with baseball. He made sure guys got to English classes on time, led drills on the field and organized informal extra practices.

He also led by example as the guy who worked the hardest, pushed himself the most and revealed a burning desire to be great. The Astros had twice turned him away from their Venezuelan academy, but Altuve kept showing up and getting put into games. While every scout believed Altuve’s bat speed and instincts were special, they were reluctant to sign a 5-foot-5 infielder.

Day by day, Pedrique became convinced the kid had a chance and talked his bosses into a $15,000 signing bonus. When Altuve’s family pushed for a bit more, Altuve stopped the conversation.

“I just want a chance,” he said. “I will show you I can play.”

Twelve years later, that may be the best $15,000 the Astros have ever spent.

Thus began the path that led Altuve to home plate in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 6 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday night.

The Astros had just suffered a punch-in-the-gut, game-tying home run by the Yankees in the top of the inning, but in an instant, Altuve changed the narrative by ripping an Aroldis Chapman slider for a two-run walk-off homer in a 6-4 victory that secured a berth in the World Series, which begins on Tuesday against the Nationals at Minute Maid Park.

Pedrique remembers telephoning his bosses back in Houston and making a pitch for 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.

“I remember our first conversation," Pedrique said in 2018 of meeting Altuve. “I asked him, 'Can you play?' He looked me in the eye and said, 'I'll show you.’”

Pedrique's pitch to the Astros had been simple.

“'I love his bat, I love his speed,'" he said. "'We don't have anything to lose.'”

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 AL in hits four times.

"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.

Al Pedrique on José Altuve: "He went against all the odds. He deserves all the credit."

“Some people thought he was a cocky little hot dog from Venezuela. I kept telling people, 'Just give him a chance. He loves to play the game.'"

Since Opening Day 2014, Altuve’s 1,163 hits are 52 more than any other Major League player (Charlie Blackmon is next at 1,111).

Altuve is a six-time All-Star, was the 2017 AL MVP Award winner and is the '19 ALCS MVP, becoming the first second baseman to win both MVP awards. His general manager, Jeff Luhnow -- and plenty of his teammates -- call him “the heart and soul of the Astros.”

"When not too many people were willing to give me the opportunity, he was the one who believed in me," Altuve said of Pedrique. "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.”