What gets Carlos Correa, the 21-year-old Houston Astro shortstop and reigning AL Rookie of the Year, in the zone? What pushes him forward? What leads him to success? Many of his Major League peers would like to know, as well as players looking to make it to the next level of their game.
Last week, Nice Kicks was granted exclusive access for a one-on-one interview, along with an opportunity to get to know what gets Carlos in the zone that keeps him at the top of his game.
On a personal note, this interview was unlike any other I had ever done. I have been a lifelong Houston Astros fan ever since wearing the Navy and Orange in little league at the age of 7. I also grew up in Fresno, California and have long been a fan of the history, heritage, and sports of the town and Central Valley.
When it was announced that the Fresno Grizzlies would become the AAA affiliate for the Houston Astros organization, I was instantly excited, because I knew there was a solid chance that their first pick of the 2012 MLB draft would get to play for my hometown team. I still follow along with the Grizzlies’ season every single day, despite now living in Southern California.
Having said all of that, coming into this interview, I tried my best to contain myself from coming across as a fan-boy and be as professional as possible. As Carlos approached me to sit down and talk for the next half hour, he was nothing short of looking like a big kid, literally and figuratively, like it was the first day of school.
It was easy to see why it’s impossible to root against the kid very quickly. His joyful persona was contagious, but he remained focused and intent on the delivery of his answers. He knows how to enjoy himself playing the game, but knows when he’s at the plate.
Carlos Correa didn’t become the AL Rookie of the Year at a young age just because he is one of the greatest infield players in The League, but because sitting in the batter’s box, he knows how to read what gets thrown at him. This guard didn’t come down one bit when it came to the interview. Before I could even get off my first pitch of a question from the mound, Carlos had to know more about who he was about to face.
Carlos Correa: Nice Kicks?! I follow you guys on Instagram. [pulls out his phone to show he liked our most recent photo posted]
Matt Halfhill: Amazing. Thank you for…
Carlos Correa: Wait, tell me more. How did this all start? When did you start the blog?
Matt Halfhill: Back in 2006, I saw that there was a need for information and history about sneakers to be published in a blog format. I was a long time reader of tech blogs and loved the format. I thought surely there are other people out there as obsessed with sneakers and the history of them as myself.
Carlos Correa: Where did the name “Nice Kicks” come from? How did you think of the name?
Matt Halfhill: [laughs] Well, it’s funny you ask that. It ties back to Fresno where you played on your way to Houston. Ironically, the stadium, Chukchansi Park, is only a mile or two from my alma mater.
I was sitting on the steps of my ninth grade English class at Edison High School when someone complimented me on my shoes and said that very phrase – “Nice Kicks.” It always stuck with me.
Carlos Correa: Amazing.
Matt Halfhill: Yep, pretty funny. Lots of great things come through Fresno.
Carlos Correa: Hopefully that includes me!
Matt Halfhill: [laughs] Of course. You didn’t play there very long, but what do you remember most about playing for the Fresno Grizzlies?
Carlos Correa: First of all, Fresno is hot. HOT. I thought I played in hot places, but Fresno is a different kind of hot.
Matt Halfhill: But you got called up in June! You missed the best part of the 110 degree summers. July and August can be brutal there.
Carlos Correa: [laughs] I enjoyed my time in Fresno, even though it was short. It was a weird feeling being there though because I knew once I got to Fresno, I was only one phone call away from the ultimate dream of coming up to play for the Houston Astros in Major League Baseball. From the days of being a kid in Puerto Rico, I had a dream of playing at the highest level. When I got to Fresno, I knew I was getting so close.
Matt Halfhill: I completely understand that. And honestly, I was looking forward to when you came to town, but I knew you wouldn’t be there forever. What was the best part of playing for the Fresno Grizzlies?
Carlos Correa: The fans. The Fresno Grizzlies fans are so passionate about their team. Every game they showed up despite it being so hot. I lived downtown not far from the stadium and you would see the fans show up early and hang around afterward too.
Matt Halfhill: I noticed the adidas NMDs on your feet. What’s your favorite part of these shoes?
Carlos Correa: So many things about these shoes I like. I’m a big fan of the design of the shoes and you can’t beat Boost cushioning. The style of the NMD is simple, but also sophisticated.
Matt Halfhill: What are your favorite shoes at the moment?
Carlos Correa: [points at my feet and laughs] Well, the ones on your feet are definitely one of them. I like the Yeezy Boost 350s a lot, as well as the UltraBoosts. And of course, the adidas NMDs too. It’s funny you ask that question about my sneakers because much of what I like in shoes influences my game.
Matt Halfhill: How so?
Carlos Correa: To me, you gotta look good, feel good, play good.
Matt Halfhill: So sneakers are part of the whole process for your game?
Carlos Correa: Absolutely.
Matt Halfhill: How does your philosophy about looking good, feeling good, and playing good apply to your footwear on the diamond?
Carlos Correa: Same principles. I do the same exact thing for my cleats – I want to stand out. I feel like to play the best game I can play, I have to look the best and feel the best and adidas’ cleats do just that for me. Obviously, with any professional sports leagues, there are certain restrictions as to what one can wear in-game, but I like to wear cleats that can be seen on the 3rd baseline from the third-level upper deck. Again, look good, feel good, play good.
I play at a minimum of 162 games a season. The Boost technology in my cleats allows me to play night in and night out without pain, discomfort, or anything holding me back from being ready to go the next game. You need to stay comfortable.
Being a sneakerhead is part of the preparation for every game. Look good, feel good, play good. The way you take the field is the way you want to walk off. Look good, feel good, play good.
Matt Halfhill: And win?
Carlos Correa: Yes. Walking off with a win is all part of that.
Matt Halfhill: I heard that you have quite an extensive collection of sneakers spread over thousands of miles.
Carlos Correa: Yes! It’s funny. Every time I go home to Puerto Rico or every time my mom comes to visit me, I am having to pack boxes of shoes to move them to my place here in Houston.
Matt Halfhill: So the sneaker room is starting to get filled?
Carlos Correa: [laughs] Yes, it sure is. Slowly but surely it is all coming together!
Matt Halfhill: Would you be down to show us your collection at your place?
Carlos Correa: [laughs] Not yet. Not yet. I have to get everything set up and ready for it first. Not all of my shoes are with me in Houston, so not yet.
Matt Halfhill: Other than sneakers, what is part of your pregame routine gets you “in the zone?”
Carlos Correa: I like to listen to music before heading out the field. Put on some hip-hop, especially Kanye and Drake, put on my headphones, and it helps me get focussed on my game and in the zone.
Matt Halfhill: I’m glad you mentioned hip-hop because Houston has quite a list of great artists.
Carlos Correa: YES. I like Bun-B a lot. I heard he’s a big fan of the Astros too.
Matt Halfhill: That, he sure is. What are some other things that you do before every game?
Carlos Correa: EAT! [laughs] Food is so important to me. I eat every day at 5:30 no matter what. I have to eat at exactly 5:30.
Matt Halfhill: Even on the road?
Carlos Correa: [laughs] Yes. I have to, unfortunately, eat a little less on the road because we have one hour less of prep time before taking the field, but 5:30 is my time to eat no matter where I am.
Matt Halfhill: Do you have a go-to dish?
Carlos Correa: I don’t have one dish that I always eat, but I am a big fan of seafood.
Matt Halfhill: How does playing on the road affect you? Surely, there are advantages to playing at home in Houston.
Carlos Correa: Honestly, when I prepare and I am in the zone, being on the road doesn’t distract me. I embrace it. Of course, being at home in Houston, it is great when you walk up to the plate and hear the faithful Astros fans cheer for you. Everyone prefers playing at home, but getting in the zone before the games is what helps me the most on the road.
Matt Halfhill: The season is a very long one when you go all the way back to spring training and include a potential post-season run. How do you prepare for that?
Carlos Correa: Training early in the season is very different from the later part of the run. 162 games is a very long stretch. You change things to be your best. Early in the season, I am doing more weight training to prep my body to be stronger, but towards the end, I do more to keep my body together and get ready for the next game. Early on I’m building to get stronger, but later in the season I’m doing what I can to stay healthy.
Matt Halfhill: Going back a few years to June 4, 2012 when you were 17. [Carlos smiles with his unmistakeable grin] What was it like to be the first Puerto Rican high school player to be drafted straight from the island to the MLB?
Carlos Correa: It was an incredible feeling. For so many years so many people from Puerto Rico have been behind me and have had a major influence on who I am. It was one of proudest moments of my life.
Matt Halfhill: Speaking of Puerto Rico, I saw that Monica Puig took home the first Gold Medal for the island just days ago in the Olympics.
Carlos Correa: Wasn’t that amazing?! We were on the road in Toronto and I was watching the game with three other teammates at the bar cheering her on at the start of the match. A little while later there were ten people cheering her on. In her last set, literally, the entire place was cheering for her. It was such an amazing feeling for me to see it happen and I am so happy for Monica. She’s a great person and represented Puerto Rico so well. I felt so proud in that moment and I was so glad I got to see Puerto Rico’s first Olympic Gold Medal.
But that’s what is so great about the Olympics and the spirit of the Games. There I was in Canada thousands of miles away from Puerto Rico and even more from Rio, but I could feel the energy and excitement. Truly beautiful.
Matt Halfhill: How do you feel about the Olympics not including baseball? There is some talk of it coming back.
Carlos Correa: I really would like to see baseball return to the Olympics. Not just because I love the game, but I would love to see so many people from Puerto Rico and other nations get the opportunity to play on the global stage and represent their country. For me, I think getting to represent where you are from is one of the greatest things you can experience. I really would like to see guys get the chance to do that.
Matt Halfhill: Who are your favorite baseball players from Puerto Rico?
Carlos Correa: I would say that it would be Roberto Clemente, Derek Jeter, Roberto Alomar, and Ivan Rodriguez.
Matt Halfhill: Speaking of Pudge. I saw that he was there for a special moment in your career.
Carlos Correa: That was an amazing moment. I always looked up to Pudge so it was so great to get to be with him when I was drafted.
Matt Halfhill: Who do you think has had the most influence on who you are?
Carlos Correa: Let me think about that.
Matt Halfhill: I know, it’s not an easy question.
Carlos Correa: My father. [points across the room to where his father was meeting with members of the Astros organization.] He has had so much influence on me as a person and has made so many sacrifices to see me succeed. I work every day to do what I can to make him proud. I am who I am today because of my father.
Going into this assignment, I was admittedly already a fan of Carlos, but after spending time with him, seeing the joyful character — yet laser-focused competitor — I am an even bigger fan of the kid.
After this experience, sharing similar interests in shoes, and even the Fresno and Astros connection, it will be even more enjoyable to watch him in his career.
Carlos is among the best of the best of his craft. At the plate and at shortstop, he is ready, focused, and determined. His physical and mental preparation is second to none, and that is why he is one of the very best in the game, as he looks to lead a new chapter on the field for both the Astros organization and the adidas brand.