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Baseball's best player has his sights set on becoming an even bigger deal

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports
mike trout

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Mike Trout is baseball's best player, but now he wants to attain a Derek Jeter-like status. (Getty Images)

TEMPE, Ariz. – When President Obama compared a piece of legislation to him, Mike Trout was in the woods, hunting rabbits, and his suddenly spirited phone hauled him briefly back to civilization.

When the president of the New York Yankees announced he – Trout – was worthy of a 10-year contract, Trout said, "Yeah, I saw it."

He arrived at the airport here to a crowd of a couple hundred fans, and spent Tuesday in a daylong national commercial shoot, and sat Wednesday before cameras and reporters, for whom he declined to address ongoing contract negotiations, which could bring him $200 million or more.

He is 22.

"It's just been crazy," he said.

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There's a patch of fresh stubble on his chin, more creeping downward from his sideburns. He'd seemingly always had the shoulders of a grown man, the game of a middle-aged soul, and yet the finer details of adulthood he'd gracefully avoided. He hadn't had much to say. He'd avoided eye contact when possible. Baseball had so outrun his childhood. He'd debuted at 19, become a sensation at 20, the best player in the game at 21, and the protagonist in the leader of the free world's off-handed analogy at 22.

"Just to get a shout-out from the President," he said, "it's a crazy feeling."

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The key for Mike Trout and the Angels this season is getting off to a good start. (USA TODAY Sports)

(As for his political leanings, Trout grinned and said, "I don't even think I voted" in the last election. He wasn't of age to vote in the election before that.)

By the time he sat down to compress it all, in a press gathering that ran parallel to the retirement gala of Derek Jeter, his boyhood idol, this Trout was composed and comfortable and assured. This Trout was the product of 336 big-league games, going on his third full season in full public view, and he wore it with confidence.

There will not be another Jeter. Not ever. But the game could use another like him, someone it can rely on, whose real-world decency matches his aptitude from seven to 10 o'clock every night, and contrariwise. The Los Angeles Angels are counting on that, and trying to put a dollar amount to it, and to that Trout said, "I know what you guys are gonna ask. I'm here to get ready for the season."

He'll play center field and bat second for the Angels, who just might be relevant in 2014. Followed in the batting order by Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, it will be Trout who directs the offense, because there is no end to the places he can go. The push in camp is to start the season with more authority than they did the past two, when the Angels went out 15-27 (12 games out of first) in '13 and 18-25 (eight out) in '12, and were all but done both times by mid-May.

So they talk about that a lot, how Pujols and Hamilton need to be healthy and productive, and the bullpen must be solid earlier, and the starting pitching must be sharper; the Texas Rangers and Oakland A's probably won't be waiting around.

Through that, Trout's arrival is an event, because of the player he is, and what he can become. He'll return to his native position. He'd answered his rookie year with a sophomore season that, by some measures, was even better, and on Wednesday joked that skeptics were now free to postulate on the coming "junior slump." Even the schism in new- and old-school baseball analyses has a fresh label: Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera?

Trout will shrug, because it seems to matter little to him. The numbers are for others to sort through. He's happy to play well. Insistent on it, even. He says there's something bigger out there, however, and he did again Wednesday, even as Jeter was hijacking his own press conference by steering it toward the real goal at hand, that being a championship. For Jeter, that would be another championship, of course, the first coming when Trout was living in Jersey, and all of 5 years old, and quite impressionable.

"I try to always do the right thing, on and off the field, stay out of trouble," Trout said. "Jeter was a role model growing up. Seeing what he's done over the last 20, 25 years, it's remarkable. I wish him the best. He's going to have probably an unbelievable year this year. He's always been my favorite player to watch, just the way he carries himself. … [He] wins championships. It all comes down to winning, I think. You can have all the best stats in the world, but if you're not winning, it really doesn't mean nothing.

"I gotta go out there and keep doing my thing, playing hard."

It's too much to put on a young man. On anyone. But it's not too much to aspire to. That's fair. It's commendable, even. Not many would even try. Besides, the President never called Jeter a Swiss army knife.

"It's still going on, like one thing after another," Trout said. "It makes you feel good, knowing that as a kid I wanted to be here, being in a place I could compete and have fun in the big leagues. And now I'm here and I'm livin' it up."

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