Nobody looks like Mike Trout on a baseball field. Nobody hits like him. And he’s showing fans and teammates why in the World Baseball Classic.
PHOENIX—One thousand and fifty-three players have appeared in a major postseason game over the last eight years. The best player in baseball is not among them.
Mike Trout he is Olivier without a stage, Tigris without a major, Spielberg without an audience. Magnificence without an echo.
The World Baseball Classic doesn’t resonate with history like the floors of Carnegie Hall. It’s not the World Series. But call it the lowly international soapbox that it is: it elevates Trout’s status among his Team USA admirers as a prodigious talent and gives Trout the rare opportunity to play meaningful baseball.
Trout’s three-run home run hit Monday night with a 12-1 sweep of Team Canada’s hard-fought legendary status. He hit a 92.4 mph four off a pitcher he threw last year for the independent Lincoln (Neb.) Saltdogs. (Trout hit 40 homers last season, just one in a four-game stretch this late.) That’s okay. After seven straight losses with the Angels, Trout thrives on the crowds, the passion, the teammates and, yes, the chance to win in the WBC.
“I think the best part,” he says, “is seeing the atmosphere. There’s nothing better than hearing your name called and then being yelled “USA!” That’s probably the nicest thing.”
Wearing a short-sleeved sweatshirt after the game and standing in a hallway outside the locker room, Trout paused and rubbed his hands on his forearms. “Oh man, I’m getting chills just thinking about it,” he says.
Trout’s 3-pointer sparked Team USA’s 12-1 victory against Canada on Monday night.
Godofredo A. Vásquez/AP
Trout, who has played 12 seasons, Cedric Mullins (five) and Bobby Witt Jr. (one) are the only position players on Team USA who have never known the feeling of shaking hands on the field after an MLB postseason victory. Trout has played in the postseason once, in 2014, when the Angels were swept by Kansas City in the Division Series. It was so long ago that I had to ask Trout if he remembered the WBC environment well enough to compare to the postseason.
“Oh, it’s similar,” he says. “It’s similar. Yes definitely. Obviously, [Sunday] Night [against Mexico] it was a little louder than tonight but i think it’s so cool. You feel it. It’s so different when you’re on the field.
“You know, this is the most fun I’ve had on a baseball field in a long time. This is – and you can ask anyone in there – it’s so much fun. That’s awesome. This is awesome.”
A front office executive from a major league rival tells a story about how heartbreakingly odd it is that the Angels have played nothing but losing teams while Trout and Shohei Ohtani have been teammates for five years.
“We really looked at the research,” says the executive, “and we couldn’t come up with it
with another case where a team had two such good players—I’m talking stars, Ruth and Gehrig, Mays and McCovey, those kinds of players—and they were so bad for so long. Teams with these kinds of great players win, or at least almost always have winning seasons. It’s a shame for baseball that the world hasn’t seen his greatness in the postseason.”
Team USA’s star-studded lineup was made possible by Trout. Once signed just before the All-Star break last year as the first player on board for his first WBC, others followed, starting with Mookie Betts, who said he wanted to play with Trout. The two MVPs were almost inseparable on the court.
Many baseball fans don’t truly appreciate Trout’s greatness because he hasn’t been boosted by postseason success and because people on the East Coast sleep when most of his games are decided on the West Coast. But even his U.S. teammates are learning about Trout.
Three days into their camp, Team USA manager Mark DeRosa was asked which player stood out to him the most after seeing the players up close.
“Mike Trout,” DeRosa says. “We have many great players, but even in this team there is no one like him. Nobody looks like him. Nobody plays like them. When he hits the ball it’s like hitting a 2 iron. It’s just different.”
Says shortstop Trea Turner, “Wow. He’s just different. The way he hits a baseball, it’s just different than anybody else’s bat.”
Says catcher JT Realmuto, “Watching him swing was amazing. I love watching him hit. He does what I’m trying to do, which is stay so tight with his arms close to his body. But he does it every time and much better than me.”
Trout and Team USA (2–1 in pool play) will likely advance to the quarterfinals in Miami with a win over Colombia on Wednesday. But in full disclosure, they’ve seen more mid-80s fastballs than a small college team. Outside of Mexico starter Patrick Sandoval, Trout’s Angels teammate, and the occasional hard-nosed but raw reliever from the low minors, they haven’t seen much quality pitching in the majors.
Canada manager Ernie Whitt started a kid two years out of high school against them. Mitch Bratt is only 19 years old and is an A ball player in the Rangers system. Whitt effectively ruled out this game, opting to keep his best hands fresh for the other games with the premise that if you go 3-1 in pool, you advance. Bratt is definitely a tough-minded kid—he looks to Madison Bumgarner as a role model—but Witt shouldn’t have started the youngster.
It wasn’t just that Bratt was so young. It’s also that he’s left-handed, has some weird stuff (a fastball between 89–91 mph and a mean fastball and changeup), and he’s faced some of the best right-handed hitters on the planet, a team that broke All-Star lefty Tyler Anderson last week in an exhibition game. Bratt gave up six runs while striking out nine and striking out one. (His other 25 pitches were balls.)
“I put him in a tough spot,” Whitt said in the postgame press conference. “I’ll take the heat for it.”
Following Bratt was ex-Saltdog RJ Freure. Between Bratt and Freure, 50 of their first 71 pitches were balls and all were below league average velocity. Trout struck out both – just in the first inning. When Trout retired Freure’s fastball on the first pitch, the USA led 9-0 and had struck out just 11 batters in the game. Unofficially, it was the 27th ballpark Trout has hit a home run in, leaving only Busch Stadium, Citizens Bank Ballpark, PNC Park and Wrigley Field on his list of home runs. The Angels visit St. Louis and Philadelphia this year.
With the help of Canada making the game with its pitching strategy, the USA looked like a different team than the one that lost the night before to Mexico.
“Nobody said anything before the game,” Trout says. “I mean, we were just trying to be relaxed, I think. In the first two games and the exhibition games, we were trying to do too much. I wouldn’t say we were all trying to be that guy, but you know what I mean.
“And then we tried to calm down and then just be ourselves. Now it’s like we’re dominating. So the mindset went from trying to do too much to slowing ourselves down a bit. And then, once we lost Mexico, we were like, ‘This is it.’ Seen it, man. We’re not with each other a lot, so it’s like we’re learning ourselves. Part of being a team, it takes some time. Like the mentality coming in today was a little bit different—like, ‘we’ve got to go’.”
As noted by infielder Tim Anderson, who smashed a triple and a single, both going the opposite direction, “Being in this lineup with so many guys, you know you don’t have to do that much.”
There’s no denying who the alpha dude is. This is Trout’s team. It was Trout who conducted the batsmen’s meeting before the team’s opening game against Great Britain. It was Trout, a solo homer, who stole a base against Mexico on a head-scratching slide in a missed effort, equaling his total last season when a bad back sent him to IL. (Angels manager Phil Nevin called DeRosa after seeing that steal and slide, half joking in disbelief.)
There is no one like the trout, not even in this group of stars. He’s listed at 235 pounds, though he’s probably closer to 250. His sprint speed is in the 95th percentile of all players with at least 100 rushing yards—faster than fellow centerfielders Myles Straw and Harrison Bader trout size. Only one player heavier than Trout has ever hit 350 home runs and stolen 200 bases like Trout already has: Jose Canseco, who was juice to the gills.
Nobody hits the ball like Trout, not with that short, wildly connected stroke of his. And no one talks about anyone on Team USA in more awe-inspiring ways than Trout. That Trout is the best player in baseball has been news for a decade. But there’s something brand new about watching Trout be Trout while playing for a championship, albeit the WBC Championship.
The match between player and stage recalls a famous observation by violinist Isaac Stern, who performed more than 250 times as a recitalist and soloist at Carnegie Hall.
“Everywhere in the world, music enhances a hall, with one exception: Carnegie Hall enhances music.”