Trout, Harper make All-Star splash ... and fit right in
As the Angels' Mike Trout and the Nationals' Bryce Harper prepare to make their All-Star Game debuts, the feeling in Kansas City is that they are right at home already ... and that this is the first of many. ...
|Mike Trout (front) and Bryce Harper should both see time in the All-Star Game. (Getty Images)|
KANSAS CITY -- What is this, an All-Star Game ... or a Scottsdale Scorpions Alumni Game?
The rocket-fueled ascents of two kids who were Scorpions teammates in the Arizona Fall League last autumn blaze through Kansas City for the 83rd All-Star Game on Tuesday night.
As Cole Hamels and the Baltimore Baltimore Orioles (among others) are quickly learning, beep, beep, there apparently is no slowing Bryce Harper or Mike Trout . Whether it's in the Arizona desert or on a star-spangled summer's evening in July.
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And you know what's especially funny?
Trout, 20, referring to Harper, 19, as "a great kid."
As if Trout is a Grand Old Sage himself.
"It's pretty incredible, how fast it came," Trout says. "It seems like I was just playing with him yesterday in the Fall League."
"Me and him and Will Middlebrooks are three best friends," Harper says, including the Boston Red Sox phenom who also played for the Scorpions but, alas, is not here in Kansas City. "We went out to eat all the time in Arizona. Trout has unbelievable talent. Middlebrooks, too.
"Trout lit a fire underneath that Los Angeles team. He really got 'em going."
The growing list of coincidences laying the foundation for a tantalizing future is downright bizarre.
There were the Scottsdale days together.
They were recalled from the minors this season on the same day, April 28.
They will make their All-Star debuts Tuesday.
"It's a lot of fun, being here," Harper said. "And it's only getting started."
A record five rookies are here at the game -- Harper, Trout, the Rangers' Yu Darvish, the Athletics' Ryan Cook and the Diamondbacks' Wade Miley.
Harper is only the third teenage All-Star ever, following the Mets' Doc Gooden and the Indians' Bob Feller.
"Names like that, it's great," said Harper, who has an impressive grasp of baseball history. He knew he followed Gooden and Feller. And "being here for Chipper Jones' last game, it will be something for the ages," he said appreciatively.
Pete Rose, Cal Ripken Jr. and George Brett were Harper's three baseball heroes growing up, so he's especially proud to be in Kansas City, on Brett's turf. And he loved hearing that Brett on Sunday said he always tried to play the game as if his dad was in the stands watching. Because if ever he didn't run out a ground ball as a kid, he'd get his butt kicked.
"That's the best analysis I've heard all year," Harper said enthusiastically, because it's also the story of his life.
"I'd think of how my mom and dad would react if I dogged a fly ball or if I was pimping a home run," he said. "I try to play the game the right way every single day, play it hard every day."
That's what has impressed current big leaguers most about Harper. By now, everyone knows how he reacted when Hamels drilled him with a pitch in May: He wound up stealing home.
As a kid, Trout idolized Derek Jeter . And yes, he said, it will be a surreal sharing the American League clubhouse with the New York Yankees captain. He has yet to formally meet Jeter, or have a conversation with him. They've spoken informally just a couple of times -- during games, when Trout reached second base.
"Stay with your approach," Jeter told Trout. "You have a great swing."
"Things I'll never forget," Trout said.
Now 38, it's hard to believe that Jeter has reached the Grand Old Man stage of his career, the point at which some of his All-Star teammates couldn't get enough of watching him when they were kids.
"I've heard that quite a bit, and it's kind of awkward," Jeter said. "At the same time, it feels good that people like the way you play. It makes me happy.
"I was part of that [new generation] wave in the mid-to-late '90s, and now it seems like another wave of young kids is coming up."
Regarding the two highest-profile on the lot, Jeter appreciates each.
On Trout: "He plays hard. He hustles. It goes without saying he's talented."
On Harper: "What I like about him is, he plays hard. He runs out everything. You don't see that all the time."
Trout echoes Jeter in his analysis of Harper.
"He plays the game hard," Trout said. "He runs out balls some guys wouldn't. Not taking the game for granted."
Harper's favorite part of Trout's game?
"He's a six-tool player," Harper said. "He can run, hit, hit for average, hit for pop ... and the mental side, that's the sixth tool people need to know."
Trout or Harper?
All-Star outfielder Jay Bruce said his Cincinnati Reds have discussed which one they'd choose in the Cincinnati clubhouse.
"Let's start with saying these guys are once-in-a-generation talent," Bruce said. "With Mike, you're talking about a guy that can steal 50 bases, hit for power. You don't know how many home runs anyone's going to hit until he hits them. But the way he changes the game in all areads is something that is very, very rare.
"With Bryce, he does the same thing. But he's not your prototypical centerfield, leadoff guy. He's a middle-of-the-lineup guy. His power potential is up there with anyone's.
"Right now, man, I cannot make a pick. I really can't."
The two friends have stayed in touch via text since their days of manning the same outfield in Scottsdale last fall.
"Every chance we get, we text each other," Trout said. "We'll congratulate each other for something that happened last night."
Harper estimates they probably average two or three text exchanges a month.
"I let him be," Harper said. "He's on ESPN every single day, anyway. You can see what he's doing."
Los Angeles Angels ace Jered Weaver can't stop marveling over the over-the-fence catch Trout made against the Orioles in Baltimore to rob J.J. Hardy of a home run last month.
" Torii Hunter has made some pretty good catches for me, too," Weaver said. "But none better than Trout. He's electric."
"It was unbelievable," Orioles All-Star outfielder Adam Jones said. "If he would have done that against me, I would have thrown something."
Trout leads the American League with a .341 batting average and 26 steals at the break. He's thrived since being installed permanently as the Angels' leadoff hitter. And so have the Angels. Since he joined their lineup on April 28, the Angels own the majors' best record at 42-24.
"We haven't had a stable top of the lineup since Chone Figgins left," Weaver said.
Harper is hitting .282 with eight homers and 25 RBIs. The Washington Nationals are 35-28 since recalling him.
Expectations are off the charts for both of these guys, and Harper allowed that "sometimes it can drag on you and whatnot."
But don't mistake honesty for even a small dose of self-pity.
"It's not stressful," Harper said. "I'd rather be doing this than sitting behind a desk looking at a brick wall."
Instead, Trout and Harper are busting through those brick walls, one stunning month at a time.
"It's an incredible feeling, knowing all of the hard work is paying off," Trout said.
Said Harper: "I love this game like a little kid."