We are witnessing the birth of a transcendent baseball career right in front of our eyes, as Angel outfielder Mike Trout has electrified his team and Major League Baseball in the first half of the 2012 season.
The first year of a player in any sport is traditionally a time of adjustment. The competition is so intensified compared to the minor leagues or college that the first year is filled with misadventure. The caliber of athlete the rookie encounters is daunting. It takes time to adjust to the speed of the game.
Rookies tend to make more errors and misplays in baseball than they will ever do later. Baserunning can be erratic, knowledge of the pitchers is embryonic, and it is hard to see much more than a hint of how a career will play out. Hitters lack consistency and endure episodic slumps. It is a period of tutelage and development.
And then there's Trout.
The 20-year-old leads the American League in batting with a .347 average going into Saturday. He also leads the American League in stolen bases with 26. He hits leadoff and sets the table for the rest of the order.
In a game last week, he walked, stole second, stole third and scored on the overthrow. He produced a run all on his own without getting a hit. Every time he gets to first base he is a danger to run, which destabilizes the opposing pitcher and rattles his delivery. His productivity sets up Torii Hunter, Albert Pujols, Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo who follow him in order. And his fearlessness and enthusiasm are infectious and light a fire under the Angel veteran players.
His extreme speed and athleticism make him a devastating fielder, and he is capable of making a circus catch on any given play. Will he cool off at some point and go through slumps? That is inevitable, but no one has stopped him yet.
He was selected to the All-Star game in just his second year in the big leagues — he played in 40 games last year but still qualifies as a rookie this year.
Trout isn't the only Angel in the All-Star game this year. The power-hitting outfielder Trumbo, who has hit a club-leading 21 home runs and will participate in the Home Run Derby, was also selected.
When Pujols was signed by owner Arte Moreno, it appeared that Trumbo might not have a position to play and he was not an everyday player early in the season. An experimental move to third base did not look promising. But injuries to Hunter and Vernon Wells gave Trumbo the opportunity to play every day, and he hasn't looked back since.
If you like baseball, or the artistry of talent on any field, do not miss the charisma and youthful joy of Trout in this rookie season. It may be a while before this phenomenon reoccurs. Rejoice in the metamorphosis of Trumbo. And get ready for what promises to be a season-long struggle as the Angels try and catch the Texas Rangers in the American League West standings.
LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. His column appears weekly. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports or blog.steinbergsports.com.