ANAHEIM – The promotional campaign for the Angels before the season began was completely centered on Albert Pujols.
It made sense. After signing one of the greatest hitters of all time to one of the biggest contracts of all time, the least they could have done was plaster his mug on dozens of billboards throughout Southern California with not-so catchy phrases such as “El Hombre,” “Big A” and “Now Playing.”
Pujols was supposed to be the mega-star that would make the Angels not only championship contenders on the field but help them win the battle for Los Angeles against the Dodgers. (Remember, the Angels are supposedly vying to be Los Angeles’ team despite playing in Anaheim.)
Well, a funny thing happened along the way. A 20-year-old kid, who began the season in the minors, has captured the hearts and imagination of everyone in the clubhouse and stands the way Pujols might have in a best-case scenario.
What Mike Trout is currently doing in Anaheim is hard to describe and even harder to fathom considering how rare it is in the history of baseball. Trout ranks second in the American League in batting average (.338) and third in OBP (.397) and is still not old enough to celebrate the feat with an adult beverage.
During the Angels' 8-5 win over the Dodgers on Friday night, Trout hit the go-ahead homer in the fourth inning and scored from first base on a single in the sixth inning.
Ever since Trout was called up and walked into the Angels’ clubhouse on April 28, the Angels are an MLB-best 33-18 and have won 21 of their last 28 games.
Yes, the same team that was 7-14 and in last place in the AL West with a non-existent Pujols is now the hottest team with Trout in the lineup. And while Pujols has at least woken up, he's hardly the reason for the team's turnaround. Pujols has only five hits in his last 28 at-bats and was 1-for-4 on Friday night with no runs.
The Angels’ promotions team has even hopped onto the Trout bandwagon and is now selling foam hats in the shape of a trout fish with Trout’s signature and number on it at the team store. (There must not have been a lot of money left over after paying for all those billboards.)
“Howie [Kendrick] brought one into the dugout before the game,” Trout said of his new novelty item. “It’s pretty neat.”
The foam hats were littered throughout the crowd of 44,548 fans at Angel Stadium on Friday, the largest regular-season turnout in the reconfigured stadium, and one jumbotron regular wore the hat as he swam through Dodgers fans in between innings.
The fans obviously aren’t the only ones who pay attention every time Trout is at the plate or is on base. There is also a different feeling in the dugout when Trout is on the field.
“Mike is a multidimensional player,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “Certainly guys on our team know that and the media and fans are starting to sense that. You saw him today score from first on a single and you’ll see him steal a base when he has an opportunity and you’re going to see him in center field take hits away. He’s a talented guy playing to his potential.”
Trout’s potential is unlike any many veterans in the game have seen before. Torii Hunter was still grinning from ear to ear as he was getting dressed after the game within earshot of Trout, talking about the RBI Trout was able to score off Hunter’s single in the sixth inning.
“Trout is like my best friend right now, he’s like my little brother,” Hunter said. “I’m really excited that he did that for me, getting me that extra RBI. I’m going to take him to McDonald’s to go play in the plastic balls.”
As Hunter spoke, Trout looked up and smiled and said, “Easy T.”
“Don’t worry,” Hunter said. “I’ll take you to McDonald’s and get you a Happy Meal and you can go play in the balls and talk to Barney.”