Mike Trout: Not talking contract
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Mike Trout began his introductory spring training news conference with an announcement: He has no comment on the state of contract talks with the Los Angeles Angels, and no thoughts or feelings to share on the possibility of signing a $300 million-plus deal.
Trout has always been a coachable type, and on the subject of his financial future, he's sticking tightly to the script.
"I know what you guys are going to ask,'' Trout said before the first question had been posed. "I'm here to get ready for the season. I don't want to comment on the contract negotiations and stuff. I'm here to just get ready to prepare myself for the upcoming season.''
In Trout's case, the absence of a contract update doesn't necessarily equate to boring. At 22 and widely considered to be the best all-around player in baseball, Trout is living a whirlwind existence that gets more mind-blowing every day.
When Trout announced on his Twitter account that he would be arriving at the Phoenix airport on Monday night, about 200 fans showed up at baggage claim in search of autographs. Then Tuesday arrived, and he followed up a workout at Tempe Diablo Stadium with a seven-hour Nike photo shoot.
"It's just been crazy, and it's still going on,'' Trout said. "As a kid, I always wanted to be here in a place where I could compete in the big leagues. Now I'm here and I'm living it up.''
Trout's achievements reflect why the accolades, attention and (very soon) huge dollars will be coming his way. His accomplishments and the impressive company he keeps are diligently laid out over three pages in the Angels' 2014 media guide:
• In major league baseball history, only seven players have amassed 350 hits, 200 runs scored and 175 walks before their age-22 season. The list includes Jimmie Foxx, Mel Ott, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Al Kaline, Ken Griffey Jr. and Trout.
• Trout is one of only four players to bat .320 with a total of 50 homers and 200 runs scored in his first two full seasons. The others: Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Trout's Angels teammate, Albert Pujols.
• Last year, Trout was the first player to lead the AL in walks and runs scored since Chicago's Frank Thomas did it in 1994. He also joined Ty Cobb of the 1915 Tigers and Lenny Dykstra of the 1993 Phillies as the third player in history to collect 190 hits, 100 walks and 30 stolen bases in a season.
The attention has started to transcend the baseball realm. When President Barack Obama was extolling the wide-ranging benefits of a new farm bill recently, he compared it to a Swiss army knife or "Mike Trout, for those of you who know baseball.'' A similar phenomenon occurred in December, when Yankees president Randy Levine said he would recommend a 10-year contract for Trout, but not Robinson Cano. MLB reportedly investigated Levine's comments.
Amid the attention, Trout is doing his best to live the life he did before he became the Millville (N.J.) Meteor and the designated "future face of baseball.'' He was out rabbit hunting when the Obama quote made the rounds, and his phone inevitably began buzzing with text messages.
One of his biggest offseason thrills came during a vacation trip to Saint Lucia, when he caught both a wahoo and a barracuda while fishing with his father. When Trout attended a Philadephia 76ers-Miami Heat game during the offseason, the TV cameras captured him sitting in the stands. All Trout wanted to do, he said, was cheer on the Sixers and see LeBron James play. He has yet to meet James, but that remains high on his personal wish list.
The Angels players who've had an opportunity to watch Trout first-hand know they've been privy to something special. And the ones who are new to Anaheim realize it will be a privilege to see such a celebrated career unfold.
It's like watching Mickey Mantle Jr. in action.
"The first thing I recognize in watching Trout is how much fun he has,'' said David Freese, acquired from St. Louis in a November trade. "His level of enjoyment, from what I perceive, is rare in this game. Maybe it's easier when you're hitting .330 with 30 home runs and stealing every base you want. The guy has a blast out there. He's just a flat-out ballplayer. I know the guys love him here in this clubhouse.''
For Trout and the Angels, there's some housekeeping to attend to before the Cactus League season begin. Trout will probably bat second in the order between Kole Calhoun and Pujols this season, and he's moving back to center field from left in the aftermath of Peter Bourjos' departure to St. Louis.
"I feel like I'm back where I belong,'' he said.
In contrast to last spring, when Trout arrived in Tempe at 241 pounds, his weight is not an issue. He finished last season at 238 pounds, and checked in Tuesday at 235 -- precisely where he wants to be.
Can Trout actually improve in 2014? That's hard to imagine. But even if he comes close to matching the numbers he put up over his first two seasons, he'll be mentioned in the company of players who can take your breath away. If that means attracting crowds at airports or getting casual mentions from chief executives, so be it.
"Mike won't let it be a distraction,'' Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He understands that he's a premier player and there's a lot of interest in what he does both on and off the field, whether it's endorsements or someone is tweeting that he had an ice cream in this store or whatever. That comes with the territory. He's very level-headed and I don't think he's going to have any problem separating that from what he does between the lines.''
Trout's biggest strides might have come in his media relations.
In his rookie year, he seemed uncomfortable with the attention and routinely lapsed into cliché-speak. Now he jokes more with reporters, is willing to let his hair down and show a glimpse of personality. Bryce Harper used to be eminently more engaging than Trout in a public setting, but the gap has closed considerably. Given Trout's status as baseball's new crown prince, there was a certain symmetry to him holding court Wednesday on the same day his favorite player, Derek Jeter, said goodbye at the New York Yankees' camp in Tampa. In a sense, a torch was passed.
"I always try to do the right thing on and off the field,'' Trout said. "Stay out of trouble. Jeter was my role model growing up, and seeing what he's done over last 20-25 years is remarkable. It's just the way he carries himself on and off the field. He wins championships. You can have the best stats in the world, but if you're not winning, it doesn't mean nothing.''