TEMPE, Ariz. – Right around the same time Derek Jeter was explaining to the news media on Wednesday his reasons for making the upcoming season his last one, Mike Trout was telling reporters nearly a continent away why he has long idolized the New York Yankees shortstop.
Commissioner Bud Selig, who's leaving alongside Jeter, could not pick a better new face of the game.
Trout, the only player ever to finish in the top two in the league MVP voting in his first two full seasons, arrived at the Los Angeles Angels camp at a trim 235 pounds, sporting his usual buzz cut and jovial attitude.
He touched on offseason activities such as rabbit hunting, fishing with his father in St. Lucia – they caught a barracuda and a wahoo – and watching LeBron James and the Miami Heat take on the Philadelphia 76ers. He was shown on the game's broadcast.
Trout also discussed his growing celebrity and his admiration for Jeter, whom he emulated as a youth-league shortstop growing up in Millville, N.J., until switching to center field his senior year in high school.
"He's always been my favorite player to watch, just the way he carried himself on and off the field, winning championships,'' Trout said. "It all comes down to winning. You can have all the best stats in the world, but if you're not winning, it really doesn't mean nothing.''
Like Jeter, Trout knows how to steer away from controversy, declining to talk about an increasingly hot topic – his contract.
Although Trout is under team control for the next four seasons and won't be eligible for arbitration until next year, Angels owner Arte Moreno has acknowledged negotiations are "active" on a long-term deal for his star center fielder.
Considering Trout is just 22 and already generally regarded as the game's best player, his next contract could eclipse Alex Rodriguez's 10-year, $275 million deal with the Yankees as the largest ever in pro sports.
Trout won't touch the topic, but he acknowledges his celebrity and the range of opportunities before him have expanded to levels he never would have imagined.
Trout was hunting in the woods less than two weeks ago when his phone started buzzing with one text after another. He later learned President Obama had compared the recently passed farm bill to him, saying, "It's somebody who's got a lot of tools and multitasks.''
On Monday, Trout arrived at the Phoenix airport for the beginning of spring training, only two find more than 200 fans there waiting for him.
The next day, he spent seven hours filming a Nike commercial that also features San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and fellow MLB stars Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Gonzalez.
"It's a crazy feeling. I really can't explain the last couple of years of my life,'' Trout said. "It's been great, having fun doing it. That's what I wanted to be as a kid growing up. I'm taking full advantage of it. There's no better place to be right now.''
And likely no more marketable player in baseball than the clean-cut Trout, who has endorsement deals with the Subway sandwich chain and BODYARMOR sports drink. More are sure to follow.
Trout's list of accomplishments in his first two full seasons – including a batting average over .320 and combined totals of at least 50 home runs and 200 runs scored – put him in the conversation with such legendary names as Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams.
More recently, only current teammate Albert Pujols could boast starting his career with such figures.
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Two years ago, Trout became the first player ever to steal 45 bases, score 125 runs and hit 30 homers in a season. Last year he improved his RBI, walks and on-base plus slugging percentage. Both times he finished second in the MVP race to the Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera, whose club won its division while the Angels came in third.
"The combination of strength and speed and the nuance, the skill, you just never see it,'' Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said of Trout. "There's talent and there's skill, and he's got both. That's what makes him so dangerous.''
Manager Mike Scioscia is hoping to make Trout an even more efficient weapon this season by batting second in front of Pujols, increasing his RBI opportunities after he finished second on the club with 97 last season.
Trout, who will return full-time to his natural center-field spot after spending some time in left the last two seasons, plans to work on getting a better jump off the bases after his stolen-base totals dwindled from 49 in 2012 to 33 last year.
There aren't many other areas in which Trout can improve, but Scioscia is convinced he'll keep working at it.
"He's certainly not a guy who's going to be prone to be complacent,'' Scioscia said. "If you look at what a normal year would be for him, his challenge is going to be to do that year in and year out. If he does that, he's going to lead the charge and have an incredible career.'