This series could be the start of a great rivalry.
This is an exciting week in baseball. For the first time in their professional careers, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper square off as the Angels and Nationals play a three-game series in Washington.
Asked what about Harper impresses him, Trout began with a stock-sounding answer.
”He plays the game hard. He’s max effort every time,” Trout said Monday. Then a smile creased his face as he added, ”besides the ‘lack of hustle’ the other day.”
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Forever linked, like lamb and tuna fish, these two exciting young players are poised to be the superheroes of a new generation of baseballers, and this week should deliver a smorgasbord of excitement at the plate and in the field — though they didn’t have much impact on Monday’s 4-2 Angels win. Trout had two singles and Harper went 0 for 3.
”If they like him, they like him. If they like me, they like me. If they like both of us, then they know the game,” Harper said. ”And if they don’t, then they’re crazy.”
Since Trout and Harper were teenage phenoms, they have been compared to each other as they seem to have a lot in common …
When you look closer, they are two uniquely different people.
For starters, Trout has finished runner-up to Miguel Cabrera in the AL MVP voting the past two seasons – and arguably should have won the award at least once. Trout continues to be a perfect baseball being; he doesn’t appear to have an ego, keeps his personal life out of the papers, puts the team first and seems to care about baseball and baseball only. In between all of that, he’s creaming baseballs, running around the bases like he’s on fire, and making highlight-reel catches in center field.
Harper, on the other hand, never has really been considered for the NL MVP (he finished 30th in the 2012 voting). He seemingly always is on blast for something, whether it be too much hustle bordering on recklessness, too little hustle bordering on laziness, good old-fashioned arrogance, or other anti-Joe Mauer qualities. In between all that Harper is hitting frozen ropes, stealing home, and running into outfield walls. Unfortunately for Harper, his persona and brand tend to outshine his play on the field; something scouts saw long ago and front office personnel were mildly worried about.
Prior to Harper getting drafted in 2010, Baseball Prospectus had this to say about Harper’s makeup:
The Nationals would go on to select the anti-Joe Mauer first overall. And they’ve “put up” with him just fine. As was shown over the weekend, new manager Matt Williams isn’t afraid to make an example of anybody.
I can’t imagine you’ll ever see those words written about Trout.
But quite frankly, baseball doesn’t need two Mike Trouts. Superstars need to be different from one another. People need to choose sides. That’s kind of what sports is all about, right? Plus, I get the feeling that Harper is pretty content playing the villain or pseudo-villain anyway.
”I know I’m a … good player, and he is too. We’re going to roll through baseball over the next 20 years, hopefully, and make people turn their heads,” Harper said. ”He’s going to do it, and hopefully I can do it.”
Despite the differences in perceived character, these two are equally exciting on the field, have a clear passion for the game and possess the ability to do just about anything conceivable on a baseball diamond.
It’s just rarely been on the same diamond together.
They have fond memories of the brief time they spent as teammates in the fall of 2011 when they were both on the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League.
As detailed in a story from the Washington Post by Rick Maese and James Wagner, the two look back at their 35 games together when they were just barely out of high school:
Though, opposing pitchers were quoted as saying the exact opposite.
Trout and Harper seemed to be buddies back then. When they weren’t practicing or playing in games, the two spent most of their time off the diamond playing "Call of Duty." But besides a couple All-Star Games, that’s the most they’ve done battle since being drafted.
That’s why this series should be so much fun. Finally we get to see them on the same field in games that actually matter. Finally the broadcasters can pull out all the hyperbole they can muster with Bird-Magic references and clichés about good vs. evil. It’s been a while since baseball had two players that were this good, this young, and at roughly the same point in their careers.
I can’t remember a time when there’s been this much excitement about a baseball series in April. So let’s enjoy the hell out of it, like the guy who made and ate the first lamb and tuna fish sandwich.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow Stephen on Twitter because, why not?