Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve is having a strange year. The offseason started with the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal boiling over. An incident where Altuve hit an improbable walk-off home run off Aroldis Chapman and insisted his teammates didn’t rip his shirt off took on malevolent implications.
The Astros started Spring Training as expected: getting thrown at by basically every pitcher with the chance. Then, the COVID-19 outbreak put an end to what should’ve been a brutal year-long slog. A break that, frankly, the Astros never wanted or asked for.
Altuve lost a lot of love in the game and among baseball fans in general, and his redemption tour faces a delay. He went from a beloved “short king” who proved the haters wrong to part of a cohort of notorious cheaters. But unlike some of his teammates, he has a whole fan base that has his back no matter what.
The Altuve family and Venezuelan baseball scene
Jose Altuve was born in Maracay, Aragua, Venezuela on May 6, 1990, reports the The Runner Sports. Baseball was an immediate factor in Jose’s life. When his mother Laste was hospitalized due to Jose’s birth drawing near, his father Carlos passed the time watching a live baseball game within view of the hospital. When Laste went into labor, their family and friends rushed to tell Carlos it was time to leave the game and greet his son.
Carlos wasn’t alone in his passion for the game. Venezuelans adore baseball, with youth leagues a constant presence throughout the country. Unlike most other Latin American countries, baseball easily outpaces soccer as the national sport of choice. The sport exploded after 1941 in particular, when the Venezuelan national team took a surprise win off the baseball-obsessed Cubans in international competition. And it didn’t take long for MLB to take notice.
MLB’s interest in developing Venezuelan talent
Dozens of MLB players trace their origins back to Venezuela. Players ready for The Show emerged as far back as 1939. As the Venezuelan baseball infrastructure developed, more were discovered for international play.
MLB has many of their own academies in the country. But most players are recognized simply for climbing the ranks of their notably competitive youth and professional leagues. The Astros discovered Altuve through his dominance of a 16-and-under league, for example, rather than their since-shuttered Astros Academy.
Scouts immediately took an interest in Altuve’s obvious speed, power, and defensive prowess. Just as quickly, they warned that his size would be a big problem in the majors. The five foot, six inch future MLB star even had to show a birth certificate to prove to scouts he was of age. Player value in MLB tends to function as a meritocracy, but scouts are required to divine future outcomes, not just current results.
Baseball Reference pins Jose Altuve as a career .315 hitter in his career with the Astros so far. He’s one of the faster baserunners in the game. He knocked 31 balls into HR territory in 2019 alone. Any worries about his size are clearly irrelevant.
Venezuelan fans support Jose Altuve despite controversy
Altuve’s backstory made him a fan favorite even outside of the Astros realm. The cheating scandal, however, has sunk his star somewhat. While his overall net worth is unlikely to take a hit, his reputation might never be quite the same.
He has a secret weapon backing him up, though. Venezuelan fans are notably obsessive over following their homegrown heroes in international baseball. Even as tensions between the United States and Venezuela are chilling the warm sports relationship between the two countries, Altuve’s fans back home still have his back. It’s an example of how sports has the power to transcend politics, even as the actual players are prevented from visiting their home country to play ball.