Mike Trout homered in his first at-bat as a father on Tuesday, and anybody who has ever spent any time around the Los Angeles Angels‘ star probably muttered something like, “Of course he did.” He does stuff like that all the time, some of it in front of the cameras but much more of it away from the spotlight entirely.
During the three-month period when sports were shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, we reached out to teammates, coaches, scouts, execs, broadcasters and friends and posed a simple question: What’s the most impressive thing you’ve ever seen Mike Trout do?
We heard from more than 50 people and learned a lot about this generation’s greatest baseball player. We learned that he signs a lot of autographs and hardly ever gets flustered. We learned that he has a sense for the moment and that he seemed destined for stardom as a teenager. We learned that he’s good at everything, and that baseball just so happens to take up most of his time. We learned that he is genuinely revered by practically everybody. And we boiled it down to 29 stories that define Trout on his 29th birthday.
It was obvious early
“He beat them all fairly easily”
It seems incomprehensible now, but scouts still wondered whether Trout’s bat would play in the major leagues in the early part of his senior year at Millville High School in New Jersey. Some asked Trout to take batting practice left-handed to see if switch-hitting was an option. With his speed, they thought, he might simply bunt his way to a .300 batting average. Trout complied on occasion, but he never batted left-handed in a game. The skill only really showed up in the last practice of the year, traditionally a player-directed home run derby complete with captains, brackets and hand-selected pitchers.
Home runs are typically rare in that event. It usually becomes an opportunity for coaches to poke fun at their players and spend a lighthearted afternoon together before they collect uniforms and officially close out the season. But the 2009 event was embroiled in controversy. Trout had just set the home run record for the state of New Jersey. He was asked to sit out but was adamant about participating. His teammates ruled out the possibility of him batting right-handed and thought he should hit with wood. After a long, rollicking debate, they settled on a compromise: Trout could use his typical aluminum bat, but he had to swing it from the left side.
“He beat them all fairly easily,” former Millville baseball coach Roy Hallenbeck said. “And he was just talking trash the whole time.”
“His time was that fast”
The 2010 MLB All-Star Futures Game was held at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California, which meant a palpable buzz surrounded Trout. A half-dozen scouts, each of them with decades of experience, crammed into their seats behind home plate with stopwatches handy. Trout hit a routine grounder to the opposing shortstop, turned it into an infield single and blew them all away with how quickly he went from home plate to first base. In these instances, scouts usually call out their times to ensure accuracy. This time, though, there was about 10 seconds of silence.
Tim Schmidt, who began scouting in 1989, finally spoke up.
“OK, I got 3.88,” he yelled. “What’d you guys get?”
The times ranged from 3.86 to 3.90 seconds, an incredible mark for a hitter taking a full swing from the right-side batter’s box. It was Bo Jackson-esque — so fast that all the scouts assumed they had it wrong.
“His time was that fast,” said Schmidt, now a professional scout with the Los Angeles Dodgers. “You can’t be 220 pounds, whatever that was, running at that speed.”
“What was that?”
Mark Trumbo found himself with a little free time while with the Angels during spring training in 2010. He sneaked out to the back fields of the team’s complex in Tempe, Arizona, and caught a scrimmage among some of the younger players in the organization. He saw Trout hit a sharp line drive up the middle and didn’t think much of it. Then he saw Trout run full speed to first base, make the turn, dart to second, catch the center fielder off guard and turn a routine single into a double.
“I’ll never be able to shake that memory because it was just so out of the ordinary,” Trumbo said. “I was like, ‘What was that?'”
“He’s the best guy down here”
Trout was two months removed from his 19th birthday while representing Team USA during a qualifying tournament for the Pan-American Games in October 2010. Jaymie Bane was scouting for the Boston Red Sox at the time and was in Puerto Rico evaluating some international players, but Trout kept jumping out at him. Bane called his father, Eddie, the Angels’ longtime scouting director.
“He’s the best guy down here,” Jaymie said.
Trout was playing among established big leaguers in their mid- to late-20s. Eddie assumed his son was comparing Trout to the other prospects.
“No, Dad,” Jaymie corrected, “he’s the best player down here.”
“He had to walk in the middle”
Trout was 20 years old for most of the 2012 season, but he put together one of the greatest rookie performances in baseball history. Near the end, it had already become clear he was special. Nick Maronde, a left-handed reliever on that Angels team, started to notice that when Trout took batting practice, opposing players would stop their stretching routines and fix their eyes on him.
The Angels’ season ended in Seattle, and Torii Hunter and Jason Isringhausen — with more than 30 years of major league experience between them — organized a team dinner that the vast majority of their teammates attended. The Angels didn’t make the playoffs that year, but they possessed several established star players, from Albert Pujols to Jered Weaver to Zack Greinke. But Trout was the one who had to hide.
“He had to walk in the middle of the group just so he wouldn’t be stopped on the street,” Maronde said. “Torii was having a phenomenal year, too, and for him to be on the outskirts really said something.”
Mike Trout has earned comparisons to some of the best players in MLB history. This is what baseball legends have to say about the Angels star.
He has some dumb luck
“Of course, it hits”
Arizona Diamondbacks right fielder Kole Calhoun spent the past eight years as Trout’s teammate, close friend and regular throwing partner. He was always stunned by Trout’s propensity to win improbable bets, side wagers and random, dumb-luck parlor games. One in particular stood out from last season.
Arizona State’s football team was a 4-point underdog on the road against Cal on Sept. 27. Calhoun told Trout to take Arizona State and the money line, which means betting on ASU to win the game without the benefit of the points. Calhoun was kidding, but Trout took his advice. He bet $1,000 on ASU, and the Sun Devils beat Cal, 24-17. Trout won $1,700.
“I was just messing around, but he did it and it hits,” Calhoun said. “Of course it hits. That guy should play the lottery, just to win it.”
“Good things just happen for him”
It was nearly 40 degrees and gloomy in Allentown, New Jersey, on the morning of Dec. 9, 2017, the day of Trout’s wedding. The forecast didn’t call for the picturesque white snowfall that everybody was hoping for. Then the ceremony began.
Shoemaker, Trout’s teammate with the Angels from 2013 to 2018, was sitting alongside Jered Weaver, Garrett Richards, Kole Calhoun and their significant others. They all burst out in laughter. Shoemaker’s wife, Danielle, turned to him and said, “Of course that’s what happens for Mike’s wedding.”
“She even knows from hanging out with them a lot that good things just happen for him,” Shoemaker said. “You go fishing and there’s 10 poles in the water, and he’s the first to catch a fish.”
A light snowfall continued throughout the ceremony, creating a perfect one-inch layer of snow for pictures at night and enough for Trout’s groomsmen to engage in a snowball fight the following morning. Weaver, born and raised in Southern California, wondered if the windows were sprayed with artificial frost. They weren’t. Shoemaker, a Michigan product, had always lived in snow and had never seen windows like that.
“Except for the fake stuff,” Shoemaker said. “The windows were frosted over. I’ve never seen that actually real. It was incredible. The windows were perfect! The corners of the windows were frosted perfectly to have that perfect winter look.”
“He would win all the time, and it was hilarious”
C.J. Wilson shared a clubhouse with Trout from 2012 to 2016 and found him to be obsessed with sports — every single one. He was good at all of them and was somehow good at analyzing all of them. This included horse racing, which fascinated Wilson. At that point the Angels had Scott Downs, who was born and raised in the state that hosts the Kentucky Derby. And they had Nick Maronde, whose father has been in the horse racing industry since college.
“Mike would do better than them at picking the Belmont or Derby or whatever the races were,” Wilson said. “He was really, really good at it, and he would win all the time, and it was hilarious.”
Mike Trout demonstrates that his talents extend beyond the baseball diamond as he chips a golf ball into a cup a floor below in his house.
He has absurd aim
“Trouty drained it”
The last round of spring training batting practice was usually lively among the hitters in Trout’s group. The reason: a gray, plastic garbage can resided well beyond the left-center-field fence of the Angels’ complex, propped atop a small hill of grass beyond the platform reserved for broadcast cameras.
Wagers were made to see who would be the first to hit it inside. Billy Eppler knew about it as early as 2016, in his first year as the Angels’ general manager. But he was preoccupied talking to a reporter on the field the morning of March 28, which marked the final day for most of the Angels’ regulars in Arizona. Then he heard everyone yell.
“Trouty drained it,” Eppler said. “I don’t know where that is, maybe 430 feet away? He drained it with a baseball.”
“He’d try every day”
Tempe Diablo Stadium had a small hole in the batter’s eye in center field that was indistinguishable unless you were searching for it. Shortly after Raul Ibanez joined the Angels for the 2014 season, he approached the hole and confirmed that it was barely big enough to fit a baseball through it. Ibanez was curious because he frequently saw Trout trying to throw a ball through it from great distances.
“And you knew when he made it because he would scream at the top of his lungs,” Ibanez said. “Every day he did this. The stuff on the field was obvious. We could measure that. But I think what makes Mike Trout extraordinary and special is his insane ability to compete against himself. It’s nonstop. He’d try every day. In my mind he’d make it every day, but let’s call it every other day. It’s probably a 100-foot throw, 75-foot throw, and he’s trying to throw it through this tiny little spot. And just the intensity — I would watch him and be amazed by how determined he was to do that.”
“Within arm’s reach of us”
Andrew Heaney was walking out of the Angels’ clubhouse in spring training alongside Garrett Richards, whom Trout always loved to mess with. Heaney and Richards made it to the right-field line, roughly three-quarters of the way to the fence if you’re judging from the end of the infield dirt, and were about to get some cardio in. Trout was taking batting practice and called out to Richards to make sure he was paying attention.
Trout hit a line drive on the next pitch that nearly nailed Richards in the head.
Then Trout did it again immediately thereafter and cackled from roughly 250 feet away.
Both, Heaney said, “were within arm’s reach of us.”
Relive the top ten moments of Mike Trout’s incredible career thus far.
The moment finds him
“His belt seemed like it was above that wall”
Dino Ebel, now the Dodgers’ third-base coach, has a poster in his home office of Trout’s famous play to rob J.J. Hardy of a home run in Baltimore on June 27, 2012. Trout personalized it with the following message: “Thanks for putting me in a position to make this catch.”
The Angels’ scouting report that weekend had Hardy as a pull-heavy hitter, a tendency that should only intensify when facing someone like Jered Weaver, who didn’t throw particularly hard. The Angels were going to shade Trout aggressively to the left side, but Ebel came on to the field five hours before the first pitch and saw Hardy working to hit the ball to right-center. Ebel relayed the information to then-manager Mike Scioscia, who adjusted his alignment and gave Trout the opportunity to make an improbable catch — with dozens of friends and family members in the stands watching him play in a major league game for the first time.
“It was like he came out of nowhere and was Superman,” said Bobby Wilson, the Angels’ catcher that afternoon. “It was probably the best play I’ve ever seen. I can honestly say that. From the view that I had, I didn’t think there was any chance he was gonna be able to catch that ball. I mean, his belt seemed like it was above that wall.”
“At that moment, I knew he was on a different level”
Tim Huff, now a professional scout for the Red Sox, was sitting in a restaurant in Southern California with members of his son’s youth team on the night of June 7, 2014. The Angels trailed the Chicago White Sox by five in the eighth inning, with White Sox ace Chris Sale on the mound. Huff was certain the Angels would lose. Then he watched Trout hit a 410-foot grand slam near center field, altering the dynamic of the game with one swing. (The Angels ultimately won by a run.)
Huff, at that point employed by the Angels, has heard countless hitters tell him changeups are the toughest pitches to hit because their spin doesn’t differentiate them from fastballs. That Trout was able to stay back on a changeup and hit it that hard — with the count full, during a tight situation, inside a packed stadium, off a pitcher with a fastball so electric — stunned Huff. Former All-Star Mark Langston was calling the game for the Angels’ radio broadcast and will never forget the incredulous look on Sale’s face.
“At that moment,” former Angels reliever Mike Morin said, “I knew he was on a different level.”
The home run became a seminal moment in the only season of Trout’s career that has included a playoff berth. From there, the Angels won 24 of 34 games heading into the All-Star break and went on to reach 98 victories.
“In some ways that game, and that moment, was a tipping point in a great regular season for us,” then-Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto, now with the Seattle Mariners, said. “Big moment for an awesome player.”
The sudden death of Tyler Skaggs on July 1, 2019, shook the Angels to their core. Skaggs was one of their most beloved teammates. He was so charming, so effervescent. For a while, his loss didn’t seem possible. In the aftermath, Trout began to emerge as a vocal leader. And once the team returned home on July 12, his bat once again made the loudest statement.
Trout’s first-inning home run — moments after Skaggs’ mom, Debbie, threw a perfect first pitch, with all of his teammates wearing Skaggs’ No. 45 — traveled a whopping 454 feet, the first of several serendipitous reminders of Skaggs on a night that ended with a combined no-hitter. Angels broadcaster Mark Gubicza, a two-time All-Star with the Kansas City Royals, grew particularly close with Skaggs over the years and will never shake the memory of Trout’s home run. It set the tone for “the greatest, most improbable game I’ve ever witnessed.”
“To hit one at that moment was so surreal,” Gubicza said.
He can really golf
“To this day, when I’m playing that hole, I’ll point it out”
Mark Mulder, a two-time All-Star pitcher who went on to become an accomplished golfer, took Trout and Jered Weaver to the prestigious Whisper Rock golf course in Scottsdale, Arizona, during spring training in 2016. Mulder was impressed with the speed of Trout’s swing and the distance that he drove the ball, but Trout hadn’t found a single fairway through the first six holes.
The seventh was about 412 yards off the tee without much grass, too tight to use a driver. Trout used his driver anyway. He drove the ball right down the middle of the fairway and dropped it about 30 yards from the hole. Mulder, who won a prestigious celebrity golf tournament three straight times and even competed in a PGA Tour event, was in awe.
“To this day, when I’m playing that hole, I’ll point it out — ‘Trout hit his drive to right here,'” Mulder said. “I just sat there with my mouth hanging open like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ You don’t come across a whole lot of people who hit the ball as far as he does that aren’t in the long-drive world.”
“Dead straight on a string 370”
Barry Enright, who spent four seasons pitching in the major leagues, had never played with a position player he believed to be any good at golf. In the spring of 2013, he invited Trout to join him for a round with two other Angels pitchers, Michael Kohn and Kevin Jepsen. Enright takes pride in his ability to drive the ball and wanted to show Trout how it was done. His first shot off the tee was perfect. Up came Trout. His swing looked mediocre, so Enright was waiting on a big slice — typical among the position players who’d join him.
“He claims he hasn’t played since last spring training, and the guy takes a rip and hits it dead straight on a string 370, about 15 yards right by mine,” Enright said. “Proceeds to birdie the first hole. He ends up shooting 78 or something that day and left the course pissed because he didn’t win. Showed me the kid can simply pick up pretty much anything and be good at whatever he does.”
“We couldn’t believe it”
Trout was playing alongside Hank Conger and Garrett Richards on a short par 4 in Arizona. Conger estimates Trout hit the ball 380 yards off the tee, cleared the green and watched it roll into the small pond that sat behind it.
“We couldn’t believe it,” Conger said. “By the time it rolled, he drove it 400 yards.”
“We end up winning the tournament by one stroke”
Trout hosts an annual golf tournament to help raise money for student-athletes in his hometown of Millville, New Jersey. Tim Kelley, a friend from high school, found himself in a foursome with Trout during the 2018 event. They were on the 17th hole, a 550-yard par 5. Trout had the best drive of the group, roughly 40 yards ahead of everybody else’s, but his ball was in the rough.
“Mike proceeds to hit an iron 220-plus yards, uphill, into a sloping green where the pin was tucked in the back left corner,” Kelley said. “We knew it was a good shot, but when we approached the green, it was about eight feet away for eagle. Mike makes the putt himself, and we end up winning the tournament by one stroke.”
Tom Rinaldi takes a look at the face of baseball, Mike Trout, and what he really means to the baseball world.
He’s good at everything
“This ray was as big as a coffee table”
Former Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher would often receive text messages in the middle of the night telling of a monster fish Trout had reeled in off the shore. One morning he was awakened by a photo of a giant stingray. Trout and Garrett Richards were living together near the water in Laguna Beach, California, by then and got into the habit of taking their fishing rods down and dropping a line after night games.
One night, in 2014, Trout went down alone because Richards was scheduled to start the following afternoon. About an hour later, he yelled at Richards to hurry downstairs because he had been battling with a giant, indecipherable fish for about 30 minutes and his arms felt as if they were about to explode. He’d bring it in close, then watch it swim a little further out to sea. It went on for a while, but Trout was ultimately able to reel it in.
“This ray was as big as a coffee table and like a suction cup on the wet beach sand,” Richards said. “It took us like an hour to wiggle him safely back into the water using the tide and a pole holder that we had. It was awesome.”
“Trout crushed me”
David Murphy played a lot of cribbage during his time with the Cleveland Indians, oftentimes with manager Terry Francona. After he was traded in July 2015, Murphy asked around to see if any of his new Angels teammates fancied the popular card game. Trout obliged. They got to the clubhouse early in Chicago one afternoon and played a few games.
“I had enough experience with the game to know it’s a mixture of skill and luck, but I was used to winning a decent amount more than I lost,” Murphy said. “Trout crushed me, though. I can’t remember how many games we played, but I just remember he won every game and a lot of them were by a wide margin. After we were a few games in, I took a picture of one of our end results. In the picture, he was smiling with thumbs up behind a cribbage board showing that he had just beaten me. I sent the picture to Francona and put along with it, ‘He’s good at everything.'”
“The man does know how to clear out a room”
Daniel Nava spent about six months with the Angels in 2016. It was enough for Trout to impress him in a multitude of ways. Nava marveled at how Trout never seemed to stop signing autographs, no matter how exhaustive his day had been. He marveled at how he always went out of his way to interact with kids. And he marveled at how he never seemed to not run a ball out.
“For the best player in the world to go hard each and every play — I wish that was talked about just as much as every other ridiculous thing he does because that in and of itself is incredible,” Nava said.
There was one other thing.
“I will say the man does know how to clear out a room with some pungent smells,” Nava said. “He always would wait right until our pregame hitters’ meeting would start to launch some foul, foul smelling odors. He’d sit down right next to some spot where he knew he could let one rip and cause max damage. And I don’t know what the kid ate, but it smelled like sour milk and rotten sulfur eggs and Sriracha chicken made a baby.”
He remains calm
“I’m not seeing the ball well right now, but I will”
Trout was only 18 through most of his first full season of professional baseball, but he graduated through both of the Angels’ Class A levels, batted a combined .341/.428/.490 and starred in the Futures Game.
It began with a blistering spring training that didn’t necessarily translate into the beginning of the regular season. Trout batted .372 through a cold April in the Midwest League, but many of his hits were infield singles because most of his opponents weren’t prepared for his speed. Only five, among 32, went for extra bases. Brenton Del Chiaro, now an assistant hitting coordinator in the Milwaukee Brewers‘ system, was hitting coach for the Cedar Rapids Kernels at the time. He asked Trout how he was feeling one day and will never forget the response.
“You know, Dely, I’m not seeing the ball well right now,” Trout responded. “But I will.”
Del Chiaro was stunned that someone so young, particularly for that league, could maintain that type of perspective when it seemed as if the entire world was waiting for him to break through. In his mind, Trout wasn’t trying to be cocky; he just sincerely knew who he was already.
“And then in May, he had 39 hits with 15 for extra bases,” Del Chiaro said. “He figured it out. It was remarkable.”
“You would never know”
Trout was batting .321/.403/.596 when April wrapped in 2014, but Rick Eckstein — serving in a liaison role between the front office and the coaching staff that year — noticed some trends that indicated Trout was headed for something of a downturn. He watched it happen through most of May, when Trout batted .263/.356/.495 with 29 strikeouts in 26 games, numbers that would only feel subpar for someone like him. What Eckstein remembers most was the way Trout carried himself during that time.
“The person that he was when things were going great was the same person he was when he was challenged at his hardest,” said Eckstein, now the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ hitting coach. “The way he still responded to coaching, the way he responded to teammates, the way he worked, everything up to the standards of how he lives his life. He captured his first MVP that year. I look back on that and I’m like, ‘Here’s the MVP, had almost a month of, for him, struggling, dealing with that, and you would’ve never known with how he was as a teammate, how he was coachable, how he was the same person.’ It’s a testament to why he’s able to be as good as he is.”
“There was no panic”
It was a Monday in the summer of 2016. Trout was scheduled to visit the Children’s Hospital of Orange County in the morning and had an appearance lined up for one of his sponsors at Angel Stadium in the afternoon. In between, he was going to ask his high-school sweetheart, Jessica, to marry him.
Tim Mead, the Angels’ longtime head of public relations who is now president of the Baseball Hall of Fame, helped plan it out. Multiple planes were scheduled to sky-type “Will you marry me, Jess?” over the ocean. Trout would propose from his balcony. The team photographer, Matt Brown, would hide in the bushes to capture the moment. It was supposed to be a clear day — but it wasn’t. The flyover was set for 12:15 p.m. PT, less than two hours before Trout’s scheduled appearance. But the sky was too cloudy for the pilots to get clearance. Mead served as the middle man between Trout and the airline company, producing an exhaustive thread of text messages.
Trout got in the car with Jessica, teammate Garrett Richards and Richards’ now wife, Alexis, heading northbound on Interstate 5 with the planes circling overhead. The clouds remained. He stopped at a Starbucks to buy some time, continually relaying information while keeping Jessica oblivious. A few minutes later, with Trout on the road again, the pilots found an opening and wrote the message for all of Orange County to see. Trout pulled off at the nearest exit, got out of the car and proposed, then went to the ballpark and made his appearance. He was only a half-hour late.
“There was no panic,” said Mead, who made it a point to save the text thread. “There was no, ‘This is being ruined.’ He remained calm. I think he was more disappointed that the weather report was wrong than anything else.”
Mike Trout shares a moment with a young fan and his family prior to taking the field against the Pirates.
He’s a genuinely good dude
“That is a veteran move”
Sunday nights at home in 2014 and 2015 usually ended with teammates gathering at Trout’s place near the beach. He’d buy catered meals and tell everyone to bring their kids, significant others and any other close family members who might be in town, even though he was 22 and 23 years old. This resonated with Chris Iannetta, who was already well into his career by that point.
“That is a veteran move, not [for] someone who is in their early 20s with a couple years in the league,” said Iannetta, now a catcher with the New York Yankees. “Even at that young age, he knew the importance of teammates, chemistry and friendships.”
“They talk about Mike Trout as if he’s still their friend”
Huston Street, a two-time All-Star closer who is now retired, lives for his three sons, Ripken, Ryder and Rafe, which is why his favorite Trout memory has nothing to do with baseball.
“He was the nicest player, maybe person, to my children almost immediately, and it remained consistent for four years,” Street said. “My boys don’t talk about Mike Trout as a baseball player — they talk about Mike Trout as if he’s still their friend.”
“His family makes up the fabric of who he is”
The Angels host a barbeque every spring with players, sponsors and season-ticket holders. In 2010, Angels president John Carpino asked an 18-year-old, recently drafted Trout if he would like to attend. Trout asked if his parents could come, too.
“From that day on,” Carpino said, “I understood how much his family makes up the fabric of who he is.”
“One of the most genuine people I’ve ever met”
Kaleb Cowart, a former first-round pick out of Georgia, considers Trout “one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met.” It became evident to him in August 2015, when Cowart was first called up to the major leagues at 23. Trout was about the same age but was already the biggest star in the sport.
“There wasn’t a guy that made me feel more welcomed, or that I belonged, more than Mike did,” Cowart said. “He went out of his way. It’s just how special he is.”
“I’ve never seen a human being sign more autographs”
Raul Ibanez had a locker next to Trout during the four months he spent with the Angels in 2014. Ibanez remembers getting to Atlanta in June and seeing 14 dozen baseballs waiting for Trout in the visitors’ clubhouse.
“Is that a lot of balls?” Trout asked with a grin.
Ibanez, fresh off his 42nd birthday at the time, told him it was too many, then watched Trout power through them, signing every last one.
“I’ve never seen a human being sign more autographs,” Ibanez said. “It seemed like after every practice he signed for just about everybody.”