As Jeter passes torch to Trout, the Angels star continues to blossom

Mike Trout and Derek Jeter share a pregame moment on Tuesday.

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At the end of the Tuesday night’s All-Star Game on FOX, someone tweeted a photo of Mike Trout and Derek Jeter standing side by side in the American League clubhouse, and it was impossible not to see the importance of that picture.

Jeter is retiring after this season, his 20th and final summer in Yankees pinstripes. Trout remains in the early stages of his career, one that is barely off the launch pad, but seems headed toward a special place in the game.

Angels fans have been watching Trout since 2011, when he got his first taste of the big leagues in a 40-game audition. But after a brilliant All-Star appearance in which he put his speed, power and defense on full display on national TV, baseball fans around the country now understand what Mike Trout is about.

So as Jeter slowly fades into his last season in New York, Trout continues to blossom on the opposite coast. Yes, the baton was figuratively passed from one to another, but isn’t that what the game is about? Old stars drift away; new stars are born. Jeter — the epitome of class and professionalism — leaves; Trout — all smiles and enthusiasm — graciously accepts his role as the Face of the Game.

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He is still unpolished. Words don’t roll easily off his tongue, but when he speaks, it’s with an undeniable sincerity. He means what he says. It was impossible not to see that when he told reporters after Tuesday’s game, "I love my life right now."

How could he not? He doesn’t turn 23 years old until Aug. 7, yet he has already achieved things in the game that other players never will. At the All-Star break, he ranks among the American League leaders in average (.310), home runs (22), RBI (73), runs (65), triples (5) and doubles (26). He is one of just five players with at least 20 homers, 25 doubles and five triples before the break, joining a list that includes Lou Gehrig, Duke Snider, Chuck Klein and Chick Hafey.

On top of that, he has a six-year, $144.5-million contract that will keep him in Anaheim until 2020. When it ends, he will still be only 29-years-old, presumably at the peak of his ability and his earning power.

There seems little question that Trout, with an All-Star MVP under his belt, will likely win another one at the end of the season. He finish second in the AL in each of the past two seasons, but with the Angels playing their best ball in recent memory, it appears Trout will finally win the MVP award he deserved last season.

More important, the Angels resume the regular season Friday night with 10 wins in their previous 11 games and the second-best record in the AL (57-37). It’s the first time in club history an Angels team is 20 games over .500 at the break, and much of that has to do with Trout.

Make no mistake; it’s not just him. The Angels are pitching well, particularly the starters, but they also lead the majors in runs (478) and on-base percentage (.334), a testament to their surging, grinding offense.

Trout is at its core. The remainder of his season will bear watching closely, and not just because he dazzled Tuesday night in Minneapolis.

More important, if he can carry the Angels into the postseason and then lift them into the World Series, he will be on the grandest stage of all.

Jeter has been there. Trout needs to get there, too.