The responsibility of representing his native Venezuela is something Astros second baseman Jose Altuve carries with him everywhere he goes. Even though he's a star in Houston, Altuve understands that the way he plays and acts on the field will reflect on his homeland as well.
Altuve is proud of where he came from, which is why he jumped at the chance to put on a Venezuela uniform and represent the country in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. The four-time All-Star and perennial American League Most Valuable Player Award candidate is making his first appearance in the Classic this year.
"I don't know how it's going to be," Altuve said leading up to the tournament. "But I'm really happy and looking forward to going, and I'm looking forward to playing hard with my Venezuela team."
Altuve is coming off a season in which he won his second AL batting title in three years and set career highs in homers (24), RBIs (96), total bases (340) and OPS (.928). He finished third in AL MVP Award voting and was voted by his peers as the 2016 Player of the Year Award winner at the 25th Annual Players Choice Awards. Altuve was also named Sporting News Player of the Year, which covers both leagues, and he won his third straight AL Silver Slugger Award.
"He's the epitome of everything that's right around the Astros," manager A.J. Hinch said. "He's a great example, he's a hard worker, he will play selflessly and never take any of the credit. He's a great example for all of our players on how to be excellent, and I think [last] season showed what kind of impact he's had with the caliber of awards he was up for."
In addition to Altuve, Venezuela -- which had its best World Baseball Classic finish in 2009 (third) -- is loaded with Major League talent. The squad also boasts Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers, who has combined with Altuve to win the AL batting title over the past six seasons. Pitcher Felix Hernandez, outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, catcher Salvador Perez and designated hitter Victor Martinez are on the roster as well.
Altuve and Cabrera are friends, and the chance to play alongside Miggy is a thrill for the second baseman.
"Every player in MLB wants to play with Miggy," Altuve said. "It's going to be fun with him. He's the best hitter in the game. I'm looking forward to that."
Altuve, 26, also understands just how rare and precious it is to wear his country's uniform.
"That is the only opportunity you have to represent your country with the jersey that has Venezuela on the chest," Altuve said. "I think you're representing the country by the way you play here and the way you act [in the big leagues], but this time you're going to have your flag on your chest. That's going to be very important."
The World Baseball Classic runs from Monday through March 22. In the U.S., games will air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN will provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. will have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. Internationally, the tournament will be distributed across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Marlins Park, Tokyo Dome, Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.