A few weeks ago, after I had decided I was going to sign with the Astros for next season, one of the first things I did was call up José Altuve and Carlos Correa.
I knew there’d be a press conference in Houston, and I wanted to see if they’d be around so we could grab dinner and talk for a bit. I was hoping to get a sense of how they were preparing during the off-season, their expectations for next year, stuff like that.
So after I answered a bunch of questions at Minute Maid Park, and posed for lots of pictures, the three of us met up at the steakhouse in The Galleria. Almost immediately after we sat down, I realized that the upcoming season was going to be even more fun than I had imagined.
Astros fans, I’m here to tell you: It’s going to be a special year. Mark it down. I can already tell … after just one dinner uptown.
At first the three of us were just sitting at the table making small talk, but then, all of a sudden, José turns to me with this really serious look and starts talking baseball. It was like he couldn’t take it anymore. He had something he needed to bring up.
“Carlos,” he said, “I need to get better.”
At first, I just kind of looked at him.
I mean, this is a guy who has been one of the most consistent players in the big leagues pretty much from the day he got called up. Last year he hit .338.
So he continues on, and he’s asking me for advice on how to improve when it comes to hitting certain pitches. He’s like, I know I didn’t hit such and such pitch great last year. What can I do to hit that pitch better?
This guy’s not happy with .338. He thinks he can hit .360. He’s like, Carlos, I know I can hit better. And he’s absolutely dead serious.
The whole time, Correa is just smiling and kind of shaking his head.
He knows ’Tuve well at this point, knows this is his M.O. So he’s just taking it all in with a big smile — one you’d expect from a guy who, at the age of 22, has become one of the top shortstops in the game. Correa and I have talked a lot about leadership during the past two years, and he’s always asking for advice that will help him be a clubhouse leader even though he’s one of the younger players on the team. So this kid gets it, believe me. And he’s just soaking it all in.
The three of us talked for hours that night — sharing ideas and advice and talking about specific things we could each do to get better. After we parted ways, and as I drove back to my hotel, all I kept thinking was.…
Wow! These guys are the real deal.
I was just smiling to myself over and over again, because I couldn’t stop thinking that. Well, that and.…
I can’t wait to get this season started.
The first time I became a member of the Houston Astros was in 2004. I had just turned 27 then. I’d played six and a half seasons in Kansas City, but I was still a kid. I’d never been to the playoffs, never really experienced any winning on a consistent basis.
The Astros were in the National League at that point, and coming over to a different league, I felt a little lost, honestly. It was like everything was new to me, and I struggled with that at first.
Luckily, when I arrived in Houston they gave me a locker next to Craig Biggio’s.
I’m sure it seems like a small thing. But in all honesty that decision — where to have Carlos get dressed in the clubhouse — had a huge impact on my career, and on the player I’ve become.
I’d always heard stories about Biggio, about how dedicated and passionate he was. So I went and talked to him about the uncertainty I was feeling.
When I was finished, he looked at me, and thought for a second. You could tell he was really considering how to respond. “Carlos,” he said, “in the National League, they throw more fastballs. I want you to be more aggressive over here. It’s not like the American League where they pitch around certain hitters. Don’t be hesitant. You’ll see good pitches over here. Just hit them. You’ll be fine.”
It made perfect sense, and, of course, I listened. Then I spent the rest of the season learning everything I could from Biggio. I watched him like a hawk.
I saw how he went about his business, and prepared for each game, and the way he played hard every single day — and I mean super hard. I remember thinking: This guy’s an animal. This is unreal. Where does he get all that energy? More importantly, though, I was like, That’s the example I want to follow right there.
I decided I was going to learn as much as possible from that guy. It was going to be my No. 1 priority. At the same time, I watched Jeff Bagwell and Roger Clemens work. I saw Andy Pettitte battle. I watched Lance Berkman and Jeff Kent and Roy Oswalt, guys who were some of the best to ever play this game. I soaked it all in, every last bit of it.
When the 2004 season ended, I’d hit 23 home runs in just 90 games with the Astros. I made my first ever trip to the playoffs and had eight more home runs in those two playoff series while hitting .435.
Something just kind of clicked.
I often find myself thinking back to that 2004 Astros team … and how we came up just short. I can’t wait for the chance to help us get over that final hurdle this time around.
Twelve years later … I find myself back in Houston.
Life is funny sometimes, you know?
A lot has changed since 2004, that’s for sure. I’m 39 now. I’ve played for a bunch of different teams, and I’ve pretty much seen it all.
Before I signed, I had a few conversations with A.J. Hinch. We talked about the season I had last year, and what I thought I could do from a production standpoint — how my bat could help the Astros achieve a deep playoff run next season.
After that, we talked about mentorship.
The Astros have an unbelievable group of young players leading the team — and, believe me, it’s not just Altuve and Correa either, there’s Springer and Bregman and Reed, a whole bunch of extremely talented guys. But nothing in this sport comes easy. You’re going to go through a lot of ups and downs. There’s no escaping it, no matter how talented you are.
Over the years, I’ve become passionate about helping guys get through those down times — whether it’s sharing preparation tips, or things I do in the cage, or just providing encouragement. If someone’s struggling, or needs some guidance, I want to do all I can to help, and I told A.J. that straight up.
Then, when I decided to join the Astros, I called him up and relayed a very simple, straightforward message.
“Put my locker next to young guys who I can help,” I said. “Get me around the kids … the players who I can have an impact on. In spring training, during drills, whenever you can. Give me the opportunity to help all the young players get better.”
He promised me he’d do that, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
I’ve had a ton of people help me with my game over the years — dozens, maybe even hundreds. And I’m super grateful to each and every one of those individuals. But there are four or five guys who, more than anyone else, really and truly shaped me into the player and person that I am today.
Craig Biggio is one of those guys. I owe so much to that man.
Over the years, anytime my team would be playing in Houston, Craig would seek me out at the stadium and come down to say hello. And, to this day, every time I see him, I make sure to look him in the eye and say, “Thank you.”
Now that I’m back in an Astros uniform, it’s going to be wonderful to see Craig more, and to spend more time with him. I think he’ll be psyched to see firsthand how his leadership and guidance back in the day rubbed off on me.
But, you know what.....
I feel like he’ll be even more excited if I can hit a bunch of bombs this year and help get Houston back to the World Series. I know full well that, more than anything else, this team will be relying on me to produce. At the end of the day, it’s all about winning baseball games and doing everything I can on the diamond to help bring Astros fans their first world championship.
For me personally, winning the World Series would mean everything — it would be the capper on a career that’s already been far better and more rewarding than I’d ever imagined possible. It feels funny to even write this, and I almost can’t believe it, but I’m about to begin my 20th season this year. And as you get older, you definitely start to think about how many more shots you have left.
To be honest with you, it’s very possible that this may be my last go-round, so you better believe I’m going to give it my all.
But let me not get ahead of myself. I’m not thinking about all that right now.
At this point, I’m just looking forward to getting things rolling at Minute Maid Park in a few months. In preparing for the upcoming season, I often find myself thinking back to that 2004 Astros team … and how we came up just short. I can’t wait for the chance to come through in clutch situations, and get big hits, and do everything else I can to help us get over that final hurdle this time around. And if, in the process, I can somehow help ’Tuve figure out how to hit .360, well … all the better.
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