Did they mess with the balls this year?

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You and I are men of action. Simplistic projections based on small sample sizes do not become us. So please, while there have been a lot of home runs hit in the season’s first five days, let’s not play the “on pace” game. Not yet anyhow.

But we can listen to the anecdotes, can’t we? Such as the one Dave O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution passed along a few minutes ago in which an unidentified bullpen catcher said that the baseballs are harder this year and that he believes “they’ve been juiced to aid attendance in bad economy.”

Hurm. On the one hand, I’m guessing that there are few places on the planet where more b.s. is tossed around than in a bullpen. Lots of time to just sit there without the bosses nearby. I’ll bet there are more conspiracy theories hatched in bullpens than anywhere besides a barber shop and a Glenn Beck/Oliver Stone fishing outing. Put differently, I wouldn’t bet my life on the claim of a bullpen catcher.

On the other hand, baseball has a long and rich history of fiddling with the ball, both officially and unofficially, so you can’t really discount the notion out of hand.

My biggest question is why?  I mean, sure, a lot of people got off on calling last season “the year of the pitcher,” but there really wasn’t a lot to it. There were some high profile pitching performances and there was a dip from historic highs, but 2010 offensive levels were still elevated, historically speaking. It would make no sense to jack the ball for the purpose of boosting offense when it doesn’t need boosting.

Likewise, the economic argument is weak. Baseball has weathered the downturn pretty well, thank you. And besides, if MLB was going to make a panicky, gimmicky move to deal with the downturn, they would have done it before the 2009 or 2010 season when people were scared that we were entering the second Great Depression. Most people have chilled since then.

Fun chatter. I’d be curious to hear more of it, actually, because for every 10 lines of b.s. you hear, an interesting truth comes out.  But unless offense just goes crazy in 2011 — or unless, you know, someone actually finds some evidence of a juiced ball — I’m going to file this under “whatever dude, call me later.”

UPDATE: Official statement of MLB’s Pat Courtney: “There has been no change whatsoever on the composition of the baseball or the process in which they are made.”

Unless a scientist tells me differently, I’m goin’ with that.

Mike Trout has no interest in being a superstar

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At The Ringer, Michael Baumann published a terrific feature on Angels outfielder Mike Trout. Trout, 25, is a two-time American League MVP Award-winner and the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year Award winner. He’s already the greatest position player of his generation and is well on his way to becoming one of the greatest baseball players of all time.

Recently, I ruffled a few feathers here by calling Trout boring. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick said as much last year. And the simple truth is that, for reasons Baumann explains, he is boring by choice. Trout wants to be a role model for kids. His agent Craig Landis said, “I have Little League and high school coaches come up to me all the time and tell me that they tell their kids, ‘This is how you do it. Period. In all aspects. This is your role model.'” Trout is the only active big league client Landis has. If he wanted to, Trout could have super-agent Scott Boras on bended knee begging for him to sign.

Trout is friendly to everyone and doesn’t come close to controversy when he speaks to the media. The most controversial thing Trout has said, Baumann recalls, is that his go-to order at Wawa is chicken noodle soup. For the uninitiated, Wawa is a popular gas station-slash-convenience store in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey as well as Maryland, Virginia, and Florida. Wawa is known for its coffee and its hoagies, even starting “Hoagiefest” almost a decade ago offering discounts on hoagies to its patrons. To go to Wawa just to get chicken noodle soup is akin to sacrilege — just ask any Wawa devotee. There are lots of them.

Trout does not bark at other players for playing the game differently, more emotionally. He himself doesn’t celebrate wildly when he does something great on the field, which happens to be quite often. He has taken what is, for a player of his stature, the bare minimum in endorsement deals.

It is a shame for Major League Baseball, and for its fans, that Trout has no interest in becoming a superstar. As you’ve no doubt read here, baseball has had trouble reaching younger audiences. The only sports with a lower percentage of kids 17 years of age or younger watching are golf and NASCAR. 17 percent of those aged 18-34 watch baseball, a far cry from the NBA’s 32 percent and the NHL’s 28 percent. When I was a kid, Ken Griffey, Jr. was arguably the most popular athlete among my peers. We imitated his batting stance when we played backyard baseball and stepped into the batter’s box in Little League. MLB marketed him like no baseball player had ever been marketed before, bringing him into our households on a regular basis. Griffey was in countless commercials, put his face on video games, and was a pop culture personality. Today, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a kid who cares who Mike Trout is — or even Bryce Harper or Clayton Kershaw, for that matter — because they’re watching basketball, football, YouTube, Twitch and numerous other venues of entertainment. And MLB hasn’t made much of an effort to capture their attention.

Major League Baseball should be beating down our doors attempting to show us Trout’s otherworldly talent. Unfortunately, Trout has no interest in becoming the face of the sport the way Griffey did.

Rougned Odor received two horses as part of his contract extension with Rangers

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Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor reached an agreement with the Rangers on a six-year, $49.5 million contract extension. It was announced on Saturday and finalized on Thursday. The contract is pretty typical — a signing bonus, escalating salaries each year — except for one thing: Odor received two elite horses as well, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports.

Here are those horses, per Jared Sandler of 1053 The Fan:

Players do sometimes get perks as part of their contracts. Usually it’s mundane stuff like extra game tickets for family and friends, use of a suite, limo rides, or plane tickets. Sometimes they can get rather specific. For example, in 2005, Troy Glaus got $250,000 per year in “personal business expenses” from the Diamondbacks, which was for his wife’s equestrian training. Hall of Famer George Brett got a 10 percent stake in an apartment complex in Memphis when he signed an extension with the Royals in the mid-1980’s. But as far as my research was able to go, no one received any horses, so that’s new.

Of course, the Rangers certainly think Odor is worth the perks. Last season, Odor hit .271/.296/.502 with 33 home runs, 88 RBI, 89 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases in 632 plate appearances. And at just 23 years old, he has plenty of room to improve.