WE FIND IT PAINFULLY FITTING, if not quite reassuring, that the city with the most miserable August in America is also home to a baseball team in the midst of its own miserable August. Together, they’ve brought widespread delirium to the populace. A pessimistic haze hangs over the town. Even in midst of last night’s 2-0 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, however, we saw signs that the weather is turning, that the ’Stros’ torpor will lift well before the heat does.
Consider, first, Tyler Clippard, who pitched well, at least after he settled down, and Joe Musgrove, who never seems to allow a run. And what about Collin McHugh, who, while still not back at full strength, continues to improve? Oh, and speaking of full strength, Carlos Correa is by all accounts progressing in rehab ahead of schedule. And then there’s Josh Reddick, whose two spectacular catches last night brought wind to the sails of every Houstonian lucky enough to see them.
So chill out, H-Town. After all, Zack Greinke beats everybody these days.
MEANWHILE, IN ‘STRO WORLD… One of our best friends—among those we’ve met in the last, oh, two weeks or so—is a woman by the name of Velia. She lives in Houston, and is one of many recent emigres from Venezuela, currently the leading candidate for most screwed-up country in the Western Hemisphere, a woman whose normal, everyday life was completely upended by Maduro. Velia will say, without a moment’s hesitation, that everything about her life is better these days, everything save the opportunity to watch Venezuelan baseball. On the plus side, she is still able to watch many Venezuelan baseball players, and she loves them all, from Miguel Cabrera to Salvador Perez to Alcides Escobar.
Still, the love she possesses for the man from Maracay, Jose Altuve, is different. It is unconditional, everlasting. Most everyone loves Jose Altuve of course, because, well, he’s Altuve. But Velia would have loved him without a .485 July. Velia loved him when he limped off the field in the too-tight Mother’s Day shoes, Velia loved his Koosh ball haircut. Velia even loved him the other night, when he might have tied a game with the White Sox in the 9th, but instead got caught looking with two runners on base.
Velia hearts Altuve. He is quite simply the greatest baseball player who ever lived.
There are a lot of reasons to believe that Velia is right, and in any case, we are not about to argue the point with a woman who includes a baseball player in her prayers each night. But we can’t help wondering if something else is behind the 4’11” Velia’s love for Altuve.
“No, and don’t you say that I said that,” she pounces after we gently suggest that Altuve might hold a special place in the hearts of those who are shorter in stature. “That is what Americans are always talking about. ‘How tall is Altuve’? ‘How can Altuve be so good at the game’? Altuve is good because he is Altuve, and he will be great no matter how big he is.”
Right, exactly what we were saying before we touched the tripwire. Altuve, you know, defies expectations. “No. He defies your expectations that a guy has to be big to be big in this game.” We aren’t saying he isn’t great, just that he’s great in spite of—“No, he is great in spite of everyone thinking he won’t be great because he is short.”
This back and forth goes on for some time.
“Why do people always think bigger is better?” Velia says. “Sometimes I see a tall woman and think, yes, I would like my legs to touch the floor. Yes, I would like to see over the counter. But I wouldn’t trade this body for anything.” She has been quite successful in life, she says, and not in spite of her height or whatever it is that reduced expectations confers, but because she is the exact right size for people. She is what everyone should be, and so is Altuve.
Apropos of that, and in a final attempt at brokering peace, we tell Velia of an intriguing posting earlier this season on the blog Beyond the Box Score. Writer Julien Assouline, in analyzing the stats of all the MLB’s hitters last year, confirmed that Altuve is indeed an outlier at 5’6”. (Furthermore, over the past 30 years, only 8 players have been as short, he says, and none achieved anything like Altuve’s success.) But Assouline also found something else, namely that “ironically, there also doesn’t appear to be a great relationship between overall hitting and a player’s height; short guys appear to be able to hit just fine.” And while there are few small-size hitters in the league these days, Assouline speculates that this may be traceable to a false assumption among MLB scouts, namely that bigger is better.
“That’s a mistake the whole world makes,” Velia notes. “See this?” she says, pointing to her right fist. “This is a deadly weapon right here. You want to see?”
We are about to tell Velia no, we will take her word for it, when she hauls off and punches us in the arm. Hard. “What about that?” she says, laughing.
There is a moment in which we almost yell, then another moment in which we stifle the yell by biting our lip, then a moment in which we choke out the words “not bad.”
“Short guys hit just fine, don’t you think?” says Velia, still smiling.
“Better than fine,” we quietly reply.