Mike Trout wants to get a few minutes with Derek Jeter at the All-Star game. Or before it. Or whenever.
He doesn’t want to be intrusive because Jeter is an icon and Trout, although what he’s done as a rookie this season for the Los Angeles Angels stands out even to a legend like Jeter, is just breaking in.
“I’d like to pick his brain a little bit,” said Trout, who lit a fuse in the Angels when he was called up from Triple-A in late April and is batting .341 in 64 games. “I was such a big fan of his when I was growing up (in Millville, N.J.) and him being my role model and all, it’s pretty awesome being here with him.”
If you think Jeter, a New York Yankees all-time great who has cruised past 3,000 hits for his career gets that all the time, you’d be right. He does. At 38 and winding down a sure-fire Hall of Fame career, Jeter appreciates the acknowledgement of his younger peers.
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“(Trout) is fun, exciting to watch,” said Jeter, echoing what so many around baseball are saying about one of the most exciting players to come into the game in years. “It’s not much fun when you’re playing against him, because he’s got so many different ways he can beat you. He beat us in defense, on the bases and he’s hitting for average and he’s hitting for home runs. He’s pretty much doing everything you could ask of a player and he’s only going to get player.”
The Angels, sluggish at the start of the season after the biggest free agent signing of the offseason when they brought Albert Pujols to town, have been a different team since Trout took over in the leadoff spot. After an 8-15 start, the Angels have gone 40-23 to move to within four games of the Texas Rangers in the American League West.
It’s been a different Trout than the one who showed up as a 19-year-old in 2011 and batted only .220 in 40 games.
“It feels great now,” Trout said. “I’m playing my game and I feel comfortable on the field. I feel like I’m in a good place and it’s just an incredible feeling. Last year, I didn’t feel comfortable at this level. I was trying to do too much, trying to hit long home runs rather than just stay with my approach.”
Trout’s approach is to spray the ball to all fields and take advantage of his speed, which has been compared to – are you ready for this? – that of a young Mickey Mantle.
Trout has natural power, which shows up often. But he’s also a tremendous and disruptive force as a leadoff hitter and has stolen 26 bases for the Angels to go with his 12 homers.
He and the Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper, a 19-year-old, have arrived in an All-Star game ahead of projections, but not really. They are considered two of the most bankable “Can’t Miss” prospects ever and were teammates in the Arizona Fall League last year with the Scottsdale Scorpions.
“I check on Bryce a little bit,’’ Trout said. “I look at his stats once in a while and try to compete a little. We’re happy for each other, happy to be in the big leagues. We’re just two young guys taking it all in.”
Despite Trout’s impact, his Angels teammates try not to show too much respect.
Pitcher Jared Weaver, a fellow All-Star, said Trout is still expected to haul water and other beverages on the bus.
“We kind of mess with him a little bit,” Weaver said. “But it’s all in fun. He has to realize that there are some guys who have been around this league for a little bit. We’ve got two in LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen who have about 35 years between them. But Mike’s doing real well with all of it and he’s a lot more comfortable now than when he first came up.”
Those veterans who remind Trout of his rookie duties also realize the Angels wouldn’t be where they are without him.
“He’s been an incredible attribute to our team since he’s gotten here,” said outfielder-third baseman-DH Mark Trumbo, who participated in the Home Run Derby on Monday night at Kauffman Stadium. “We were struggling for some continuity at the top of our order and he’s provided everything you can ask for and more. He really does have a joy for the game. He’s even keel and doesn’t get down and has developed the confidence to realize that a couple of 0-fers aren’t the end of the world.”
It’s the same kind of realization Jeter came to as a young player, surely.
When the Yankees played a three-game series in Anaheim against the Angels in late May, Trout was 4-for-13 with a pair of homers and a triple. He remembers speaking to Jeter briefly when Trout reached second base.
“He told me I had a good swing and just to stay with my approach,” Trout said. “Things I’ll never forget.”
Watching Trout fly around the bases and hit the ball all over the park probably made Jeter think about his younger years. But it didn’t make him want to re-live them.
“No, no, I don’t wish I was 20, man,” Jeter said. “I’m tired. I definitely don’t want to go back to being 20.”