KANSAS CITY -- Jose Altuve stood at his locker after the National League's 8-0 win over the American League in the 83rd Midsummer Classic on Tuesday night, beaming, still working to soak in every last morsel of his All-Star experience before it was time to go home.
"Everything," Altuve said excitedly, asked to name his favorite part of the All-Star festivities at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.
High on the list was Monday's State Farm Home Run Derby, which Altuve watched from the grass in front of the visitors' dugout with the rest of his NL teammates. The ceremony before the big game, however, trumped everything. The flyover, the national anthem, the roaring crowd, the introductions. Altuve had never witnessed anything like this. Now, he was right in the thick of it, in one of the best seats in the house.
"This was a dream come true, to play with all these guys here," Altuve said.
With only two second basemen on the NL's All-Star roster, the odds were overwhelmingly in Altuve's favor that he was going to get in this game. Starter Dan Uggla of the Braves played four innings, and Altuve, the players' choice to be an NL reserve, entered defensively in the fifth inning with his team already ahead by eight runs. He was inserted into the lineup in the No. 8 spot.
Altuve had one at-bat, facing Orioles right-hander Jim Johnson in the eighth inning. He took several pitches, working the count to 2-2 before grounding to second.
Was he nervous?
"A little," Altuve chuckled. "I just didn't want to strike out. After two strikes, I just wanted to put the ball in play. I had some fun playing defense. Everything was OK."
Altuve is a fan favorite in Houston for two reasons: he hits, a lot, and at 5-foot-5, he's really, really short. His small stature was a main topic of conversation during Monday's media session, and even though national writers are slowly starting to acknowledge his offensive abilities, most of the Altuve stories during All-Star week have been as much about his height as anything else.
That line of questioning will probably follow Altuve through his career, and it's likely he'll be as unfazed by it 10 years from now as he is today. He laughs when teammates put kiddie chairs in the dugout and label them "Altuve." When teammates purposely hold their hands too high for him to reach during a series of high-fives, Altuve simply smiles and jumps up to reach.
Life is, after all, pretty good for the 22-year-old second baseman. A year ago, Altuve was just starting his journey, playing for Double-A Corpus Christi after making an appearance in the XM All-Star Futures Game in Phoenix. But things changed in a hurry. The Astros traded Jeff Keppinger to the Giants a couple of weeks later and summoned Altuve to the big leagues, caring not that he was skipping Triple-A all together.
Altuve has had to silence his detractors from the very beginning. The Astros turned him away the first time they saw him at an open tryout in Venezuela when he was 16, telling him he was too little to play in the big leagues. Altuve was persistent, and they gave him a chance. They were still skeptical when they signed him.
Six years later, the dividends are clearly paying off. In a time of rebuilding, the Astros' talent pool, for now, resides in the Minor Leagues. Altuve is a bright spot for a big league club that is struggling almost as much as it did last year.
Altuve will soon rejoin his Astros teammates to begin the second half, but for now, he'll revel in the aftermath of a glorious three days in Kansas City.
"Everything," Altuve said, "was perfect."