WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Carlos Correa would have you know it was a matter of priorities, that he used hours that otherwise would have been spent on a tour of the White House for the greater good of his native Puerto Rico, digging out still, six months later.
He would have you know that a local inspection of the supplies his friends and family have gathered and will be shipped to Puerto Rico, that will feed and shelter and clothe and console his people, was his priority. And that, perhaps, the many handshakes here were of greater consequence than a single handshake there.
Jose Altuve would have you know he did not glower at the president, and neither did he glare or scowl or, for that matter, game-face him. And that that, the expression you probably saw over Trump’s shoulder and whipped up 24 hours of LOL drama, was nothing more than Jose Altuve’s resting chief executive face.
Invited to the White House by President Trump, the World Series champion Houston Astros boarded a flight before dawn Monday for Washington D.C. They returned close to midnight. Afforded the day off, Correa said, he stayed behind in order to attend to his relief efforts. He said no slight was intended. Instead, he thanked the president for “all of his help” in tending to Houston following Hurricane Harvey and for “some of the help” he provided to Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
He would have you know that his heart is in Puerto Rico, with the people in Puerto Rico who are without electricity, without water, without near enough food. The people without hope. The ones you hardly hear about anymore. He would have you know that the cargo ships are expected to sail in the next two weeks.
I would have you know that in all cases actions speak louder than words.
In the moments before he jumped a bus to Port St. Lucie and a spring game against the New York Mets, the 23-year-old shortstop had this to say about that:
“We’re still in need in Puerto Rico. What was a year ago an economic crisis now has turned into a humanitarian crisis. It’s not about politics right here, it’s about human lives at stake. There’s people committing suicide just because they don’t have the resources. And I not only represent the Houston Astros, I don’t only represent my family, but I also represent the American citizens that are living in Puerto Rico. I just want to bring some awareness of what’s going on out there. Hundreds of thousands of people still without power. Twenty percent of the west coast in Puerto Rico still has no running water over there. And, you know, I thought it was good for me to be able send some supplies to those most in need, especially on a day off, because we don’t get that many days off. But it was never about politics. I’m very grateful for what the president has done for Houston, for some of the help he sent towards Puerto Rico. We’re still in need. I think the federal government can [be] more prominent and come up with a more proactive solution to those in need so we can stop that crisis in Puerto Rico and people can stop committing suicide.”
He added, “I’m looking forward to winning another World Series championship and showing up to the White House.”
Asked if his work Monday and his absence at the White House on Monday served the dual purposes of assisting Puerto Rico and registering a complaint about insufficient federal aid to the U.S. territory, Correa said, “I’m not saying that. … It was a great day to do a lot for my people.
“I’m not going to stop until Puerto Rico is back on their feet. So maybe I’ll be sending stuff for another year or two. But at the end of the day, I’m going to do what it takes in order for me to help the people of my country.”
Once a rubber-stamped and celebrated perk of winning championships, the White House visit – a series of tours, jersey presentations and tests of the sitting president’s sports knowledge – has become under Trump a thorny topic. In September, Trump withdrew his invitation to the NBA champion Golden State Warriors. This came shortly after Warriors star Stephen Curry told reporters he’d rather not attend, at a time it seemed fairly clear the Warriors would vote against a visit. Twenty-some New England Patriots skipped the White House event after their Super Bowl victory last year, and several Philadelphia Eagles players said before and after Super Bowl LII they would not attend.
Of the Astros who went to the White House, most said they enjoyed reacquainting themselves with the history lessons of their youth and walking halls tread by so many iconic figures. Jose Altuve said he was especially taken by a display of antique China.
It was Altuve who found himself Monday night at the center of hollow controversy. Situated directly behind Trump during the president’s welcome speech, Altuve bore a stoic expression, one the Internetocracy judged as disapproval. Photos and short video clips swept across social media, including one suggesting Trump intentionally bypassed Altuve while shaking hands with various team members.
Explained Altuve: “The president was talking. What do you want me to do? I was just standing there listening. It was an honor to be there. If I didn’t want to go, I just wouldn’t go.”
He added, “I’m [standing] behind the president, probably one of the most important guys in the world. I can’t be laughing or doing stupid things while he’s talking. I need to listen.”
The lines blur. Folks see what they want to see, or need to.
“Well, I’ll put it this way,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “I think context is a very difficult thing for people to understand and you can create your own narrative, which unfortunately in this day and age can be easily done with screen shots and assumptions. I think it’s unfortunate that it ever got to a point where we automatically assume the negative without giving one of the best human beings on our team the benefit of the doubt.”
Altuve, last season’s American League MVP and the Astros’ best known player, said he’d actually been standing elsewhere and was directed to a more central location behind the podium. He said he hadn’t intended to mean-mug the president.
“Look,” he said, “I got a game face [on] right now and I’m not mad at you.”
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