In Mike Trout’s world, baseball is about having fun. It’s not about paychecks and big houses; it’s about making leaping catches at the wall, stealing a base or scoring from first on a double. It’s about winning games.
It won’t be like that forever. It never is. Baseball is big business, and Trout eventually will discover the part of the game that involves money and contracts. But before he gets there, maybe everyone should take a breath and let him be himself.
There is already pressure being Mike Trout, the Angels’ Face of the Franchise. He is the reigning American League Rookie of the Year and finished second to Miguel Cabrera in the MVP race, an award he could have won if voters chose to crunch the numbers in his favor.
The Angels are building a huge promotional campaign around him, from bobblehead dolls to blankets to drinking glasses. That’s understandable. Trout will sell tickets, both home and away, as fans consider whether he’s the next Mickey Mantle or just another big-league flameout.
He’s the real thing, of course, but the bar has been set – and that means Trout will have to equal or surpass last season’s numbers or risk criticism from all corners.
But is that fair? At the age of 20 (he didn’t turn 21 until August), Trout’s first full season was off the charts: a .326 average, 30 home runs, 83 RBIs, 129 runs and 49 stolen bases in 139 games. He was the first player in major-league history to hit 30 homers, score at least 125 runs and steal at least 45 bases in one season, and on various levels his stats compared to those posted by Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby and Mel Ott.
He was, and still is, a phenom. But he’s still only 21, with plenty of upside and time to develop his skills. His talents aren’t going anywhere, but there’s still a learning curve that comes with experience.
Trout’s arrival in camp this month caused a minor stir because he showed up at 241 pounds, 10-15 pounds heavier than last season. Twitter was aflutter.
People forget that Trout lost about 10 pounds last spring because of a virus, preventing him from making the team out of camp. This year, he intends to lose about 10 pounds during camp and be at his optimum weight, about 230, when the season starts.
Asked about the ruckus his weight gain caused, he told reporters, “I think it’s pretty funny. I usually lose five to 10 pounds in spring. I figured if I came in at the weight I want to play at and lost five to 10 pounds, I’d be underweight to start the season.”
He will have to get used to the attention. He’s baseball’s version of the Kardashians – everything he says and does will be reported and catalogued. Every sneeze will be cause for concern. If he snubs an autograph seeker, it won’t go unnoticed.
It shouldn’t be that way. Trout is a kid – a nice, happy, talented kid who should run on a loose leash if he makes a mistake. At some point, he’s going to dive for a fly ball and miss, or get caught trying to steal a base in a key situation. It happens. And if he opts not to sign an autograph or shake a hand, it doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy.
He isn’t. Trout handled virtually every situation last year with aplomb. He was friendly to fans and chatty with the media, and the smile on his face never vanished.
He enjoys the game, and he wants to keep it that way. But it won’t be easy. The demands will be great; the expectations will soar. He might hit .350 or .250; he might hit 40 home runs, he might hit 20. The beauty of baseball is that you never know.
“We’ve got high expectations,” he said of the Angels, whose lineup will include Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. “Everybody has to do their role. You see my name everywhere. I’ve just got to go play the game. I can’t worry about it. If you think about it, you just put pressure on yourself.”
So let’s let Mike Trout be Mike Trout. He’s a special talent who’s going to get better. He already has shown an ability to adjust from one at-bat to the next, and you can’t teach the kind of speed he possesses. As he grows, so will his power.
It will take time and patience, and Trout should be given both. Baseball is still a fun game to him. It should stay that way.