Friday, July 8, 2011
Mike Trout is the buzz of Angel Stadium
By Mark Saxon
ANAHEIM -- Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher was ready to get batting practice started Friday afternoon and the first group to go was the starting outfielders.
"Torii, you've got to lead it off," Hatcher yelled.
Angels veteran Torii Hunter, approaching while waggling a bat in his hands and carrying on a conversation over his shoulder, responded, "Huh? Bam!," and pointed to 19-year old Mike Trout, who was standing there taking cuts near the cage, about two hours away from making his major-league debut.
"You've got the youngster, the Golden Child," Hunter said.
So, Trout jumped into the cage and did as he was told. He took a few swings, hit a few line drives up the middle and jogged over to first base to get loose running the bases.
Trout might be the youngest player in the major leagues, but he has a bowlegged swagger about him that makes him look unafraid. Of course, you can never tell what somebody's feeling inside. At this point, that swagger might be the best thing Trout has going for him, because the first fly ball hit to him or the first pitch he sees figure to be a dizzying experience. How could it not be?
"I don't care if you're a hitter or a pitcher, you can't breath," said Angels broadcaster Mark Gubicza, who pitched for 13 seasons and made his debut in 1984 at age 21. "I got out on the mound and it looked like the plate was about 150 feet away. I walked Brett Butler on four pitches. Thank God, the next guy swung at the first pitch."
Trout was in bed at his apartment in Little Rock, Ark., when Angels general manager Tony Reagins called him early Friday morning to tell him to get on a plane bound for Orange County in a few hours. He was coming up at an age when most future major leaguers are either in college or low A-ball. When Trout finally got to Angel Stadium -- after flying all morning -- Angels manager Mike Scioscia walked up to him and said, simply, "We've got 4:40 p.m. stretch. Get ready to play."
Trout was starting in center field and batting ninth against the Seattle Mariners.
"I can't even really explain it. I was almost in tears," Trout said. "Just hearing that and getting up here with the opportunity to play with the big club. ... I'm going to have fun with it."
Trout's stay this time will be a finite one, possibly shorter than two weeks. Scioscia made it clear before the game: when Peter Bourjos' hamstring is healed -- which could be as soon as late next week -- he'll return to his spot in center field. Trout will be sent back to the minors, likely to Triple-A Salt Lake.
But no matter how long he's here, his presence already has energized the Angels. Hunter pulled up a chair next to Trout in the clubhouse at about 4:30 p.m. and had a long chat with the youngster.
"This is a guy coming from Double-A to the major leagues, you're talking about those lights, the extra 30,000 fans, the media, everybody's watching," Hunter said. "He has to get over that first. Once he gets over all that, he's going to settle in just fine. We've all been through it, everybody."
The Angels debated after Thursday's game whether Trout was too young, whether struggling for a week or two could set back his development, dent his confidence. In the end, they made a simple decision: Of all the players in their organization, he gives them the best chance to win games while Bourjos is out.
Reagins watched Trout play in person in mid-June and seeing how polished he was in center field was one of the factors that convinced the team to bring him up now.
"There is always a possibility that young players coming up are going to struggle," Scioscia said. "I haven't met a young player that's come up here and struggled for a short amount of time that hasn't gone down and been better for it."