You are a kid dwarfed by your teammates. You are too small for baseball, they tell you over and over. Your teammates poke fun at your small stature. Your coach benches you with the game on the line in favor of one of the big kids.
You are tormented by your detractors. You love the game but the odds are stacked high against you. Your palms are sweating, your stomach churning.
So what do you do? How do you cope? Where do you turn? Who do you draw inspiration from?
You watch the ultimate sporting role model. You watch Jose Altuve in the American League Championship Series. You watch a man who has overcome the longest odds to become the player many regard as the greatest small player to toil in the major leagues. He is a towering five-foot-six and, if they measured his heart, it would come in at about six-foot-six.
You go to school on Jose Altuve, a player never ever let the dream die, even after the team that employs him, the Houston Astros, shunned him as a 16 year old as he took the first step towards achieving the dream of his countryman and idol Omar Vizquel.
If you get cut from a tryout camp, you don’t take no for answer, don’t give up hope. Never give up hope. When Altuve was cut from a Astros’ tryout camp in his native Venezuela, he returned with a vengeance the next day anyway. When you’re the smallest player you never say never.
You don’t think about the money. With the sweetness in his swing and the fire in his eyes, Altuve eventually won over the Astros’ scouts who called him enamal (dwarf) and they offered him a pro contract.
When the Astros offered a signing bonus, Altuve told them he’d play for free. Al Pedrique, the assistant to Astros’ general manager Tim Purpura who went to bat for Altuve, talked the organization into offering him a $15,000 signing bonus.
When you’ve had to scrap for everything you’ve gotten, you play with a scowl on your face and a chip on your shoulder. You play every game like it is your last. It is this way for Altuve, who is paid US$14.5 million a year while looking like he’d play for nothing.
When you win a batting title and they call you a slap hitter, you watch more film, take more swings, pump more iron and study more pitchers to miraculously transform yourself into a bonafide power threat with 24 homers in back-to-back seasons.
When you endure a miserable batting slump in your first post-season appearance, you apologize to the manager and come back with a steely resolve to redeem yourself. Altuve, on pace to become one of the greatest second basemen in history, returned to the post-season this year with fire in his eyes against the Boston Red Sox, becoming the eighth player in history to hit three homers in a post-season game. Babe Ruth did it twice. Don’t bet against Altuve doing it again.
If you’re five-foot-nothing, you don’t need to become a jockey and spend your leisure in a hot box to make weight. You can draw inspiration by watching Altuve, a 27-year-old who shares a birthday with the great Willie Mays, as he racks up spectacular post-season offensive stats as the Astros face the Yankees.
Watch him out-muscle the game’s most celebrated power hitter, Yankees’ six-foot-seven Aaron Judge, a leading candidate for the most valuable player award. Listen to announcer Joe Buck marvel at Altuve as a “hitting machine.” Listen to the fans chant MVP when you stroke another hit and dance on your toes around the bag at first.
Never mind about your small stature. Check out the numbers of the baseball’s little big man. Altuve is batting a jaw-dropping .625 in the post-season while the big man, Judge, is the strikeout machine with an astonishing 19 strikeouts in 27 bats and a paltry .143 batting average.
On this day, Game 2 of the series in Houston, you watch the sparkplug Altuve as he goes down swinging in the sixth with the score tied 1-1. Yankees’ pitcher Tommy Kahnle triumphantly shouts with joy as he rings up Altuve. The reigning batting champ spits through his teeth and flashes a menacing glare at Kahnle as he storms back to the dugout. You know he’s taken that license plate number – #48. Altuve’s icy stare tells you his job is not finished.
Watch Altuve in the ninth as he comes to the plate spitting mad and promptly sets the stage for victory with a first-pitch line single off Yankees’ closer Aroldis Chapman. And watch him charge around the bases from first like a man running for his life to score the walk-off game-winning run on a double by Carlos Correa.
Altuve’s hit was only a single in the scorebook but to the kids who idolize him it was much, much more. It was another shot of inspiration to the youth who face discrimination based on their small stature in baseball, or in life.
Listen to Altuve in a post-game interview saying “this is my best game ever…”
No doubt, he means it his most important game ever, putting the Astros within six wins of their first World Championship.
“We here, we battling 100 per cent,” gushes Altuve, and this time the cliche doesn’t ring hollow.
The message from Altuve is crystal clear. Don’t let the scouts write you off based on your performance under a superficial tape measure. Watch Jose Altuve, who forced their hand and left them no choice. They had to measure the size of his heart.
Indeed, this day marked another rousing tape-measure job of the heart.