Trout displays unique ability to tune out distractions
In high demand off the field, Angels superstar able to manage time, pressures with ease
TEMPE, Ariz. -- When Albert Pujols emerged and the whole world wanted a piece of him, he had Fernando Vina, Edgar Renteria, Mike Matheny and Mark McGwire, veteran players who kept him grounded and taught him the all-important skill of compartmentalizing. Pujols had Placido Polanco, who took him under his wing, opened the door to his home and became somebody the Angels' first baseman now calls "mi compadre, my best friend."
Now Pujols is trying to be something similar for Mike Trout.
"That's my job, to be a mentor to him," Pujols said of the star center fielder, who's 12 years his junior. "He's pretty good about asking questions, approaching me and listening. He's a very good listener. I think that's really important. A lot of young guys don't like to really listen too much, because they think the veteran guys are picking on them. But Trout isn't like that, man. He's a very humble kid."
Time moves fast for Trout these days. That's what happens when you're a back-to-back runner-up for the American League's Most Valuable Player Award, and you're widely considered the best all-around player, and you're clean-cut and 22 years old.
You become a poster boy for the sport you play, a guy many want to brand as the new face of baseball. As Pujols said, speaking from experience, "Everybody wants a piece of you. And that's the hardest thing of all."
But few make it seem easier than Trout.
The Angels' public-relations department keeps an Excel spreadsheet of off-the-field requests each player has taken on this spring, and Trout's list is 27 lines long. No other member of the Halos -- a team with a walking Hollywood script in Josh Hamilton, a Head & Shoulders pitchman in C.J. Wilson, a perennial AL Cy Young Award contender in Jered Weaver and a future Hall of Famer in Pujols -- has taken up more than 17.
They allow Trout to do so many because they realize it doesn't affect him.
"There's special gifts that he's been given to play this game, and I think some of those same qualities carry over into his ability to handle other things," Angels vice president of communications Tim Mead said. "He feels no pressure when he does those things. It's just time management, and he's outstanding at it."
The day after Trout landed at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, where about 200 fans awaited his arrival, he did a six-hour shoot with Nike. The next day, he sat on one of the bleachers for an impromptu State of the Union-type news conference about the team. And that was only the beginning.
There was a photo shoot with Sports Illustrated, a three-hour shoot for Topps, a national ad on FOX, another shoot with BODYARMOR SuperDrink, a one-hour shoot with Major League Baseball, an ad-lib spot for MTV, exclusive interviews for MLB Network, ESPN, SiriusXM and so much more.
Meanwhile, Trout has hit .371 this spring, with 13 hits -- two of them mammoth homers -- and only four strikeouts in 35 Cactus League at-bats. He leads the league in tuning out distraction and keeping things simple.
"I don't think about it at all," Trout said of the off-field demands. "Once I'm here, I'm just having fun. That's the thing. When you're having fun, you're not really thinking about too many things. Once I put my headphones on and get ready for the game, I don't really think of anything. Just straight baseball."
Last year, when the sophomore slump was whispered, and they temporarily took away center field, and they compensated him in a way his agent felt was unfair, Trout put together another MVP-caliber season, batting .323/.432/.557, with 27 homers, 97 RBIs, 33 steals and an AL-leading 110 walks.
Now it's all about the contract. They speculate on how much Trout would make as a free agent and wonder if he'll be baseball's first $300 million player, all while the Angels quietly try to negotiate a long-term extension that will buy out some of his free-agent years -- even though he's four years removed from his first one.
Mike Scioscia is asked if he's worried about all of this getting to a player who's still so young, and the Halos' manager says: "Mike has perspective. He manages himself."
A potential deal could be something in the six-year, $150 million range, likely paying Trout more than $30 million annually when he reaches his free-agent years and setting himself up for another big contract before age 30. But there has been little talk on that front since the Angels renewed him for $1 million in 2014, a record for a pre-arbitration-eligible player -- and Trout himself has no self-imposed deadline for signing an extension.
"Whenever it happens, it happens," Trout said. "When I play, I don't think about it. It doesn't bother me; it doesn't affect me on or off the field."
Trout's combination of power, speed and intuition are almost nonexistent today. But many will tell you his greatest gift is the joy he exudes, and those same people hope it never changes; that the outside demands and persistent pressure don't jade one of baseball's most affable superstars.
As Wilson said: "I hope that he stays his same jovial self, who just goes out there and plays baseball, like a Willie Mays-type player. I hope he never loses it, because it would be a huge blow to baseball to not have that talent and that attitude together, because he has a fantastic attitude."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.