Scenes from Spring Training: Even the phenoms pay their dues


Last night I was on a radio show, and the host asked me why we don’t tend to see prima donna baseball players making demands on their teams the way we do in the NBA and the NFL.

There are a lot of reasons, of course. For one thing, no one baseball player is as important to a baseball team’s prospects as a single basketball player or skilled NFL player can be to their teams, thus depriving a would-be baseball diva of any real leverage. Another is that, by virtue of college and prep baseball having a very low profile compared to college basketball or football, no one comes to professional baseball already a superstar.

Finally, there’s just the cultural difference: baseball tends to breed and reward conformity and tends to punish non-conformity.  That’s partially for the reasons stated, but partially because that’s just the culture of the game. The upshot: even if you’re the number one prospect in all of baseball, you gotta pay your dues.  And Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels is no different.

Not that he would be if the culture of baseball were different. He seems like a nice young man who is polite to his elders (who is everyone) and respectful of his place in the hierarchy. But even if he were inclined to be a hotshot, outside of a handful of prospect hounds and hardcore Angels fans, there really isn’t anyone telling him (or any other hot prospect) that he’s all that.  It’s quite the contrary, actually, as is readily apparent based on a scan around the Angels’ clubhouse.

When you walk in, you notice a nice spacious area to the left with wide lockers and plenty of room to relax.  In front of those lockers sit Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu, Vernon Wells and the other veterans, all in seeming comfort.

Trout’s locker, in contrast, is crammed in a corner where 15 guys share very limited real estate, and some of them even share a locker.  On this morning in Tempe, the limited space was even further limited by the fact that the clubhouse attendants were using the floor in front of rookie corner to stage and fill equipment bags. This despite the fact that there was much more room over in the Hunter/Abreu/Wells section.  As Trout and his fellow youngins sat in preparation of the day’s activities, their arms were drawn in to their sides and their knees were up, much like passengers on an overbooked flight.

The NFL has rookie hazing in training camp. The NBA probably does too.  But I get the distinct impression that young baseball players pay higher social dues over a long period of time.  This doesn’t make baseball any better.  Indeed, this socialization program is what makes ballplayers a lot more boring and cliched than their counterparts in the other sports. It also likely the basis for a system in which the boat is rarely if ever rocked anymore, even if the boat needs a good rocking.  It’s just a different scene with different good and bad points.

After taking in the clubhouse atmosphere a bit I walked over to Trout, climbing over equipment bags in the process.  We engaged in the most cursory of chitchat before he said the most significant thing I imagine he’ll say all spring:  He’s happy to be here. He just wants to help the ballclub. He’s looking forward to learn whatever he can from Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, Bobby Abreu and the other veteran Angels.

What, you were expecting a demand that he be traded to the Knicks?

Mike Trout has yet to strike out this spring

Rob Tringali/Getty Images

Everyone is well aware of how good Angels outfielder Mike Trout is at the game of baseball. The 26-year-old is already an all-time great, having won two MVP awards — and arguably deserving of two others — and the 2012 Rookie of the Year Award. He has accrued 54.2 WAR, per Baseball Reference, which is right around the threshold for a Hall of Fame career. Trout does it all: he draws walks, he hits for average, he hits for power, he steals bases, he plays good defense.

But here’s an achievement that is amazing even for a player like Trout: he has yet to strike out this spring. In 41 Cactus League plate appearances, he has 10 hits (including a triple and two homers) and six walks with zero strikeouts. Across his career, Trout has a 21.5 percent strikeout rate, right around the league average. He isn’t usually such a stickler for avoiding the punch-out, but this spring he is.

To put this in perspective, 134 players this spring have struck out at least 10 times, according to 938 players have struck out at least once. The only other players to have taken at least 10 at-bats without striking out this spring are Humberto Arteaga (Royals, 23 AB), Tony Cruz (Reds, 18 AB), Oscar Hernandez (Red Sox, 10 AB), and Jacob Stallings (Pirates, 18 AB).

According to Angels assistant hitting coach Paul Sorrento, the lack of strikeouts hasn’t been a conscious effort from Trout, Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register reports. Ho hum. The best player in baseball is apparently getting even better.