The young players keep coming, one after another, each seemingly more gifted than the one before.
Mike Trout is better than them all.
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The American League All-Stars packed their belongings in the visiting clubhouse, veterans and youngsters alike, celebrating their 6-3 victory over the NL and agreeing on one of the game’s most elemental truths.
Mike Trout is better than them all.
This is where we are now, and it’s still only the beginning. Trout, 23, opened Tuesday night by becoming the first player since Bo Jackson in 1989 to hit a lead-off homer in an All-Star Game. Trout closed it by becoming the first player to win back-to-back All-Star MVP awards (the honor originated in 1962).
When Fox Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi asked Adam Jones about Trout’s homer, the Orioles center fielder responded, “He’s the white Bo Jackson.” When I asked Trout about that line during the broadcast, he just shrugged, smiled and said, “awesome comparison.”
If I had been quicker on my feet, I would have told Trout, “Thanks for only playing baseball.” The Blue Jays’ Russell Martin, when informed of Jones’ comment, said, “It wouldn’t surprise me if he could grab the football for the first time and run for 200 yards.”
The veteran players hold Trout almost in awe, and not simply because of his physical talents. To several of them, the play that defined Trout on Tuesday night was not his home run off Zack Greinke, he of the streak of 35 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings and Gibson-esque 1.39 ERA. No, the moment that the veterans most admired came in Trout’s third at-bat, when he hit a seemingly routine double-play grounder to second with the score tied 1-1.
Naturally, Trout beat the throw to first. Naturally, he scored from second on a pinch-hit single to left by Prince Fielder. Naturally, the AL finished the inning with two runs, taking a lead that it never would relinquish.
The Yankees’ Mark Teixeira noted that Trout was jammed on the pitch by Clayton Kershaw, and that right-handed hitters who get jammed tend not to get out of the box as quickly.
Naturally, Trout busted down the line, undeterred.
“That was a tailor-made double play,” Tigers left-hander David Price said. “For him to beat that ball out tells you how hard he plays the game. He plays it the right way. To see a superstar like that approach the game the way he approaches it, it’s a breath of fresh air.”
What impresses Teixeira the most about Trout?
“Everything. I’m being serious — everything,” Teixeira said. “He’s a five-tool player. He plays in a big market as a young player. And he’s kind of embracing being the star of MLB. He just doesn’t seem to be letting up at all."
Teixeira was just getting started.
“I hope young players watching in elementary school or high school say, ‘That’s the way you should play the game,’" the Yankees first baseman added. "I want the next generation of ballplayers to all play as hard and as well as he does.
“There are plenty of guys we see who have amazing talent but loaf down to first base, guys who have amazing talent but are jogging around the bases and taking two minutes to get around the bases after hitting a home run.
“I just like the way Mike does it.”
Martin, too, was effusive.
“I don’t know how old he is, but he plays like a guy in his prime,” the Jays’ catcher said. “He’s so gifted, yet you cheer for him because he does everything right.”
Players don’t talk about Bryce Harper like that, at least not yet. They don’t talk about Kris Bryant and Manny Machado and Carlos Correa like that, though maybe they will someday.
Right now, there is Trout, and there is everyone else. Remember all the hand-wringing last season about who would replace Derek Jeter as the face of baseball, if such a player could possibly even exist?
Such a player exists, all right. And he’s better than Jeter ever was.
“I have to play against him 19 times a year,” the Athletics’ Stephen Vogt said. “Nothing he does is surprising anymore. He blows everyone away on a nightly basis.
“He is everything that is right about baseball right now.”