Astros star Carlos Correa has been working toward the majors since he was in the third grade. Now, ahead of his first -- yes, first! -- All-Star Game, the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year talks to Marly Rivera about training with his father, working out for the Astros, and the pitcher he's most excited to face in the All-Star Game.
When did you start training with your dad?
Since I was a little boy, my dad worked in construction. He would start his workday at 4 a.m., under the hot sun. He built houses. He would get home late, so when I'd get home from school, I would study, do my homework, and then around 8 p.m. we would head out to the park. Sometimes we'd stay there until 10 p.m., sometimes until 11, depending on how the practice went, but we always practiced a lot. When I was in high school, things started to get more serious because we would spend at least three hours in the park after I came home from school every single day -- Christmas, New Year's, Thanksgiving. There was no off day.
How did your dad acquire the skills to help you?
At first he knew nothing. Nothing. Even when he played, his nickname was "coge jueyes" ("crab grabber") because he was a fisherman and when he would field a ball hit toward him, he would grab it from the top, as if he was grabbing a crab, because he didn't know how to do it. When I was 5 years old, he put me on a Little League team where the coaches would teach me and he would ask things here and there, asking everyone. We learned together. We grew up together. Then he would go searching for information on the internet on hitting and things like that, and as he kept on learning he would teach me everything he learned.
How would he learn online?
Watching videos of Major League hitters. He has been a lifelong fan of Albert Pujols. He always looked at videos of Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, hitters who were successful, sluggers, hitters who could do anything at home plate. Then he'd play the video in slow motion -- he would pause and play, pause and play. Then he would say, "Look, you have to place your hand there because Pujols has it there," and things like that. And I started learning.
That was not very technologically advanced ...
It's nothing like what we have now, that you have access to everything in a computer. Before it was pause and play, pause and play, and that's how we would learn. And I think that was the perfect way, because sometimes when you give too much information to a young player -- that can affect you and give you a mental block. I see that every day. Sometimes we get too much information, like "this pitcher throws a fastball on a 2-1 count 80 percent of the time," but that 80 percent of the time includes the ninth hitter, eighth, leadoff. It's not the same when you're batting third, fourth or fifth. And maybe that 80 percent does not apply to those batters. Sometimes there's information that doesn't help, so I prefer to go with my instincts and what I think is going to work for me.
Are you selective with the information you like to get?
Certainly. The one that helps me most is related to defensive positioning in the "shift", and that's because it works most of the time. ''If a batter hits the ball here 80 percent of the time against right-handed pitching," then you are there and usually he will hit it there. But when it comes to hitting, I prefer to watch videos of the pitcher and establish an approach.
When did you start standing out as a player as you were growing up?
When I was in the ninth grade, I was about 5-foot-9, 5-foot-10. And then all of a sudden, during the summer before my sophomore year, I grew to around 6-foot-3. My knees started to ache. I couldn't run. I went to see the doctor and they told me it was part of a growth spurt. It lasted for a couple of months. My dad got me a trainer so I could adapt to my new body. We started doing physical work, agility, running around cones, all those things that you train with in track and field. When I was a junior, then I no longer felt anything, and I started to move better, run better. And it was then, when I was a junior, that scouts started inviting me to different workouts. They were inviting me to Perfect Game tournaments. They were inviting me everywhere.
I went to a Perfect Game and at a shortstop showcase I threw 97, I ran the 60 in 6.7 seconds and put on a show. I think I hit a home run and doubled, and then I was ranked in the Top 50 in the U.S. Afterward I was invited to the Perfect Game All-American and I had an excellent workout. I played very well during the game. Then I went to the World Showcase, and there I was ranked in the top 10. I continued taking part in tournaments in Puerto Rico. The Astros came to see me for a day, and the first day I hit it out of the ballpark twice. They ended up staying the entire tournament. Then they invited me for a private workout in Kissimmee and I went there around two weeks before the draft. I did a workout and also hit. They told me they liked what they saw but they wanted to see me against their pitchers. They had me hit against some of the Dominicans in the GLC, some of my teammates now, like Michael Feliz, Reymin Guduan, Yandel Gustave, and I did very well. I faced a few more and hit well. I worked out with seven teams -- San Diego, the Cubs, Kansas City, the Orioles, Minnesota, the Astros and Seattle. Then we waited for the draft and Astros took me with the first pick.
Did you always know that you were going to be the first pick overall?
No, I didn't know. I did know for sure that the Cubs would take me with the sixth pick. All I knew was that I would be within the first six picks. The Cubs told me they would pick me. So when the draft came, I didn't know what was going to happen. I was anxious. I was not nervous because I knew something good was going to happen, but I was anxious. I just wanted to know. My representative and I were texting and he tells me I think we think we have a deal, and when I asked who, (then-commissioner) Bud Selig was live on camera. So I had to put the phone down next to me and I never saw his answer.
So you found out when Selig announced it?
At the same time the whole world found out.
Was the goal always to reach the majors?
Since I was in the third grade. I remember we were watching a game on TV and there was a Latin player being interviewed and his English was bad. I said to my dad, "I want to go to a bilingual school so I can learn English," and he asked me why. I told him that when I play in the major leagues, I wanted to speak English well. And he took it seriously, even though I was in the third grade. Shortly after that they started all the paperwork to find a way to find me a scholarship, and that was difficult. The bilingual Christian private school was expensive. I got a small academic scholarship. I took a test and did well, and because of our financial situation they helped us. I had to keep my grades up to keep the scholarship.
How did the work you did with your father prepare you to be the player you are today?
He taught me to have a strong work ethic every single day. To never take things for granted. Always work, work, work. Look for ways to improve every day. I remember when I was 10 years old, my dad would hit hundreds of ground balls and throw hundreds of pitches for me to hit. People at the park would yell at him, "Stop abusing that kid, you're going to exhaust him; he's tired. That's a little boy; he's not supposed to be doing those things." But the thing is that those people yelling at him didn't know that I was the one who was saying "Dad, let's go, more, more." My dad would say "We have to go," and I would yell back "No, let's keep going." I was the one who wanted to keep on working. And that's how we worked until I signed. Now I take things a little easier because I know what works for me.
Have you also learned Jose Altuve's work ethic?
Jose is a very different player. Jose is a natural player. He is a natural hitter who comes here, takes five swings and feels ready for the game. I'm a guy that needs to work every day to do the same and be prepared physically and mentally. He is a natural. He can come in and not even hit BP and then go the game and get three hits. That's him. What I have learned from Jose is to take things easier and be smarter and focus on that what's most important is what I do during the game. In the past, I would get here and take 80 swings in the cage, and then take 40 swings during BP and 40 more before the game, and when I got to the game I was exhausted. So now I take 10 swings here, 10 swings there and 10 swings there, and when the game comes I'm ready, I feel good; I know what works for me. It's about having a daily routine that works for you. I also learned that from Carlos Beltran when he joined the team. Carlos told me, "There are going to be days when you're going to need 40 swings to feel ready. There are going to be days that you're going to need five or 10 swings to feel ready. You have to know yourself. Batting is about 'feeling'; how you feel with your swing. When you feel you are ready, stop. You don't have to do too much." I learned that from Beltran. I have really learned a lot from him.
What did you learn after the 'sophomore slump' you went through?
Last year I learned a lot about myself as a player, especially mentally. I felt like I was having a really bad year but I felt strong mentally. I would work hard every day. My swing did not feel good most of the season. The last month I played with a shoulder injury. I learned a lot of things about myself and I consider it to be a bad season, but it was a season where I learned a lot. I learned the pitches I was missing. I learned what holes I had in my swing and what I had to improve so I would not foul the ball and hit it straight forward. And all those things made my offseason start earlier and the offseason was focused on work with a purpose for this season.
What was the purpose?
Last year I would foul back many good pitches to hit because I had those holes in my swing. This year I fixed my mechanics a little, with a more direct swing to the ball when I get good pitches to hit.
Who did you work with?
With my dad and my hitting coach Jose Rivera.
Where did you meet him?
I met him when I was 11 years old. I joined a team and he was the manager. He became a batting geek. He was a Double-A player in Puerto Rico and later on he turned into a computer geek; always looking for information on hitting.
How did you identify the holes you had in your swing?
We all identified them together. My dad told me all of last season what I was doing wrong but it is difficult to change that overnight, because your muscle memory is already set. But in the offseason we got to work on that and my body got used to this swing now.
So your "bad" season was responsible for the success you're having now?
Absolutely. Definitely. Sometimes when you fail that makes you realize that you still have a lot to improve. I remember after my first year, when I won Rookie of the Year, I went to my offseason training with my dad and when he'd tell me what I needed to work on I would say "No, Dad, I know. I made it to the majors; I know what I have to do." And he'd be like, "Oh well, that's fine." Then I had the bad season I had last year and he said "See what I meant? You were missing those pitches, and if you miss them during practice you will miss them during the game. This offseason we have to work in what I was telling you. I want you to listen to what I'm going to say and then let's see how it goes." So I agreed, and I followed the routine he said, and it's working.
So did you think you knew it all after your rookie season?
Not to that extent, but I felt that since I had a good season in the majors I already knew what worked for me and I wanted to keep doing what I was doing. I did not think about the adjustments that the league would make towards me. My dad said "You played very well your rookie year, but you were missing badly these pitches. And when teams see the pitches you are missing, they will throw you right there." And I was like "Dad, they can't throw every pitch there, they're going to miss." But the one that was missing them was me.
Which pitcher are you most excited to face in the All-Star Game?
I have already gotten to face Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. I faced Max Scherzer in spring training. But I think Scherzer would be the one I'd like to face the most because I think he's the best right-handed pitcher in the major leagues.
What changes in the All-Star Game now that it 'doesn't count'?
If there isn't a specific reason to play, then you simply play for the fans, so the fans have a good time and enjoy watching their favorite players in the All-Star Game. I think it was better when you were playing to win, because if we are losing by a run or the score is tied and I am at first base and someone gets a hit, I will try to run to third so the next batter has a more comfortable at-bat. But if the result of the game doesn't matter, then I will not sacrifice my body running hard, putting myself at risk to get hurt while running. I think intensity is going to be a bit lower since it doesn't count. Obviously the intensity of every at-bat will not diminish. You always want to hit a home run and be the All-Star Game MVP. But when you are running the bases, the intensity is going to go down a lot. You won't try hard to break double plays. You're going to try to run nice and easy.
Is MLB ready for a Latin player to be the face of baseball?
Right now it's Mike Trout, but yes, I think so. There are too many good Latino players. And I think the game is ready. You just have to do the right thing, play good baseball first, be at the top of the league in your performance, express yourself well, be charismatic and master the language. That's something we have to pass on to all the Latinos who come after us. It's nice that we have translators here now, but learning English is very important. Things have changed and at least in my organization there's a lot of help to learn English. I am aware that by mastering both languages I can market myself to a wider audience. I want to represent Latinos and at the same time show that it is important to learn both languages.