The ball is climbing on a rising, hissing arc, cutting through the velvet night, on a trajectory that will take it well over the center field wall and somewhere into the darkness beyond….
And then, suddenly, he is there, his calibrations correct, taking him to the intersection of ball and wall and he is leaping, straining and with his glove snatching the ball and bringing it back into play.
Another jaw dropping piece of Grand Larceny by the man known as Trout, and who now invites comparisons to the wondrous Willie Mays, of whose outfield play it was said: “His glove was where triples went to die.”
But throttle back for a moment here, Pilgrim. Isn’t this heresy, putting Mike Trout, the Millville Marvel, in the same sentence as the man considered the best all around player ever? Maybe. Maybe not. Check back in15 or 20 years.
At 24 he is already considered to represent the face of Major League Baseball, not only for his exploits on the diamond but for his exemplary conduct off it. The only one who doesn’t seem to be impressed by Mike Trout is Mike Trout.
And ponder this from his trophy case: Reigning American League MVP; Two-time runner-up; AL MVP; MVP, All Star Game.
He plays the game with an unbridled joy. But then if you had his talent you’d go to work with a smile on your face, too.
He runs the bases like a middle linebacker, and no one is anxious to step in front of him and take a charge. In fact, the more you watch his hell-bent-for-leather style of play you wonder if maybe he plays too hard for his own good. Splatter yourself on one wall too many and you flirt with a trip to the disabled list. Or worse. But the Millville Marvel only knows one gear and will have to live with it. Halfway invites certain injury.
With a bat in his hands he is lethal, that rare combination of hitting for average and power.
Consider this: A player capable of hitting .300, with 40 home runs, at least, and 40 doubles and oh yes, mix in 10 triples, too, and when things are tight and you need the timely stolen base, the middle linebacker will oblige, flashing speed and savvy.
Start adding all this up and you have, to use the phrase of the moment, a game changer.
But no one is perfect and baseball, more than any other sport, will expose failings and weaknesses. The very best at their craft fail seven times for every 10 at bats after all.
Mike Trout is not immune; he has his vulnerable spot. It’s exposed when he unleashes one of those thermonuclear swings designed to land a baseball on the moon.
He is prone to striking out, often and violently. Sometimes, the earth moves. Sometimes, a stiff breeze is generated. Sometimes, Mike Trout tours the bases in triumph—but always, always, mindful not to showboat and not to show up the opponent. He is respectful of the game, and wise beyond his years.
So he works now on purging those dreaded strikeouts from his game, though truth be told, down through the years those sluggers who belt them most frequently also whiff most frequently. (There’s only been one Ted Williams, after all.)
When Mike Trout gets into one, really gets into one, the landing area is close to 500 feet, and teammate and opponent alike scramble for a choice seat.
On those nights when Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, a certain Hall of Famer, play each other a game of can-you-top-this, the sky twinkles. What strikes you most is how far and how fast the Millville Marvel is ascending through the ranks of comparison with greats of the past. Names from out of the misty past are exhumed—Mays, Williams, Musial, Foxx, Cobb, Gehrig, Ruth, Mantle…. It’s a roll call of history and it seems like every time he does something noteworthy he is equaling or surpassing the ghosts of greats. Example: On June 30 he belted his 20th home run, a titanic shot off the Yankee’s CC Sabathia that reached the base of a fake rock pile in center field in Anaheim. He became the sixth player below the age of 24 to post 20 homers… and that list includes Mantle, Williams and Alex Rodriguez.
“Humbling, but we’ve got a series to win.”
That night, in addition to his milestone homer, he saved a couple of runs with two sprinting catches in center field on balls hit over his head by New York’s Chris Young, who thought he had two bases minimum and waved his arms in disgust as Mike Trout tracked them down.
Said C.J. Wilson, who was the pitching beneficiary of Mike Trout’s game changer: “Real shocker, right? Trout hits a homer and saves a couple of runs with his defense… you got a guy like that chasing down balls for you. Obviously this is one of the perks of being on this team. Nothing we haven’t seen before.”
And won’t see again… and again… and…