MEXICO CITY -- The buzz when they approached home plate was a little bit louder, the applause when their names were introduced to the crowd was more enthusiastic. Astros second baseman Jose Altuve and shortstop Carlos Correa are two of today's biggest, young Latin American baseball stars, and their popularity in Mexico was evident during this weekend's Mexico City Series.
Altuve, who's from Venezuela, and Correa, a native of Puerto Rico, are the biggest attractions of the exhibition series against the Padres. Altuve is a three-time All-Star and a batting champion who had an unlikely path to the big leagues, and Correa was a No. 1 overall pick who won the American League Rookie of the Year Award last year.
"Latins follow other Latins, whether they're from the same country or not," said Astros Mexican-born general manager Jeff Luhnow. "To have Correa and Altuve down here is a significant step. I think it also increases the awareness of the Astros to have those two players in Mexico. A lot of people are going to be learning more about Correa and Altuve. They may have heard of them. They know the Astros are getting better, and this is a chance to get to know these players more in-depth."
Correa homered in Saturday's 11-1 win over the Padres, satisfying those who had been eager to see him.
"When they told me I was going to Mexico, I was like, 'Yes!'" he said. "I wanted to come here and be able to play in front of fans that can speak Spanish, so when I'm signing balls and stuff like that, I'm speaking Spanish to the fans. I enjoy back home in Houston, but sometimes it's nice to come here to Mexico and speak to the guys here that cannot travel to Houston to watch us play."
You won't find a bigger Altuve fan at Estadio Fray Nano this weekend than 18-year-old David Aguillon, who drove 10 hours from his home in Monterrey to see Altuve, his idol. Aguillon had a chance to meet Altuve before Sunday's 20-6 Astros loss to the Padres and had him autograph an orange No. 27 jersey, which Aguillon wore proudly.
"I like Jose Altuve," Aguillon said. "I like his way of playing the game. He's a stud. He's a very nice player and even a nice person and he actually signed my jersey today, so I'm really, really happy about that."
Aguillon, a college student who plays second base and wears No. 27 like Altuve, said he's been a fan of Altuve since he broke into the Major Leagues. Aguillon was at Opening Day in Houston last year and tried unsuccessfully to meet the Astros' second baseman.
"Even though he's a really short player, he's got a great talent," he said. "He's got a pretty good swing. He's very good at second base with the glove, and I've admired him since two or three seasons ago with the Astros. I really hope one day he could win a World Series with the Astros."
What makes Correa and Altuve resonate with fans, beyond their talent, is the fact they're great ambassadors for the team and the game off the field. They both are bilingual and media friendly, and both routinely sign autographs for fans.
"That really helps build the image of the Astros worldwide," Luhnow said. "That's exactly what we're looking for."
Tony Clark, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players' Association, said young Latin American players can set a good example for kids with similar upbringings who dream of one day playing in the big leagues.
"The connection is important," he said. "Having them here is tremendous. Obviously, they're great ambassadors of the game, not just internationally, but domestically as well. We're very glad they're here with us."