No amount of peer pressure would make C.J. Cron bend. It was about 11 a.m., two hours before the Los Angeles Angels’ first pitch, and Mike Trout wanted to play cribbage. He tried everything. Shaming Cron’s card-playing acumen. Saying he was scared. He even let Cron sneak a peak at his pay stub, which an Angels employee had handed Trout a minute earlier.
“How many zeroes are in this thing?” Cron said.
Trout demurred, as he often does when it’s about him. This was about the game, and he was jonesing for some competition before the competition. Cron never bit, which left Trout facing his outfield mate Kole Calhoun one-on-one. And for 10 minutes, the matchup looked entirely lopsided, Calhoun’s pegs racing ahead of Trout’s.
Then something happened. It was mostly luck, as cribbage often is, but Trout, in between his bites of bacon and egg whites, started cutting into Calhoun’s lead. He halved it. Quartered it. Calhoun was incredulous. Angels pitcher Matt Shoemaker walked by and shook his head.
“See what I mean?” Shoemaker said.
A few minutes earlier, Shoemaker was talking about how Trout can do no wrong. This is not something he says with disillusionment. There are truths in life, and a universal truth is that Mike Trout is better. Doesn’t matter at what. He’s just better.
“When we go fishing in the ocean, he’s always the first one to catch a fish,” Shoemaker said. “It’s crazy. He’s that type of guy. Anything you do, he’ll usually win. We’re playing cards, he has this wonderful aura. There’s got to be something.”
Now, that something was manifesting itself. Hand after hand, Trout plucked good cards and played them to perfection. Calhoun’s insurmountable lead shrunk to nothing.
“How easy is it for you?” Calhoun said.
“It’s not hard,” Trout said.
*** Mike Trout is in his seventh professional baseball season. His first, which began when he was just 19 years old, consisted of 40 games and 135 plate appearances of struggle. Over the next five, he won a pair of MVP awards, finished second three more times, hit .310/.410/.564, whacked 163 home runs, drove in 481 runs, scored 580 times, stole 139 bases and played some of the best center field in the game. He is the finest player since Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr. tussled for the title. If the next 10 years are anything like the first five, he may well be regarded as the greatest player since Babe Ruth.
Now 25, Trout is presumably in his prime, ready to exert over baseball a level of mastery rarely seen. The season is young, performances all over the place, but Trout’s success transcends that rule of waiting two months for numbers to stabilize. He is who he is, which is to say his .333/.414/.650 line comes with no caveats, no doubts. He’s just better.
Alongside that truth, of course, is the most reasonable and rational question possible: What isn’t Mike Trout good at? What can this kid, who is by all accounts unfailingly polite, who is astoundingly accommodating, who is a people pleaser nonpareil — who, before the cribbage game, took the time to query teammate Cam Bedrosian on the best Pokemon he has wrangled because self-absorption just ain’t his bag — not do?
“Uhhhh,” said Angels reliever Mike Morin.
“Well … ,” said Shoemaker, unable to finish the sentence.
“I don’t know,” said Angels outfielder Ben Revere.
This was not going well. Trout’s humility endears him to all. His respect for the game makes him a paragon among his peers. His normalcy allows him to head home to Millville, N.J., just outside of Philadelphia, and walk the streets without anyone bothering to accost him, because he’s still one of them, and the people with whom he grew up still can’t fathom how someone goes to L.A., makes $100 million, cements his place in the national pastime’s history and doesn’t change.
“He’s just a little better than everybody,” Morin said. “You begin to appreciate it. I’m very competitive. And there are just things he can do that I … can’t. And that’s OK. Because he’s Mike Trout.”
Ask Trout what he’s good at, and he hems and haws for a moment before saying, “I don’t think about stuff like that. I’m always positive.” And he says it with such genuineness that either he’s the world’s best liar or just that earnest.
When he thinks for a minute, though, Trout finally stumbles upon something.
“Fiancée gets me at Scrabble all the time,” he said. “It’s a lot easier on the cell phone with Words With Friends, where I can plug in letters and hopefully they’re words.”
A-ha! There it is! Mike Trout’s vocabulary depth is iffy!
There is more.
“I went to go see that 50 Shades movie with my fiancée,” Trout said. “It was a good movie, though. I saw the first one. She’s really into it.”
Uh-huh. Sure she is.
Then, pressed on the fact that Morin doesn’t see him playing video games altogether often, Trout confessed a secret. He does enjoy playing MLB: The Show. When he does, he’ll often create a player. He names that player Mike Trout. And he turns up all the attributes to 99.
Turns out in some ways, Mike Trout is just like everyone else.
*** So back to the cribbage game. A small crowd gathered around the table. Trout surveyed his cards. His face belied his hand. It wasn’t good enough. Unless Calhoun made a mistake, Trout would lose. Calhoun didn’t make a mistake.
“He gets pretty lucky from time to time,” Calhoun said. “But he still lost. So I’ll take that.”
He chuckled. For nearly four seasons, he has played next to Trout on a near-daily basis and spent untold hours with him in clubhouses. He marvels at how Trout handles the attention, the failures inherent in baseball, the responsibility that comes not just with being the game’s best player but the weight of history that burdens those with the duty.
“He’s a gift to the earth,” Calhoun said. “That’s what he is. Everything he does, he does right.”
Well, except for that one thing.
“I saw him park really screwed up once,” Calhoun said.
Apprised of this allegation, Trout did not deny it.
“I don’t know if it was one day I was in a rush and parked it crooked,” he said, but, yes, he did. Otherwise, he typically stays in between the lines. And he keeps his cars clean and beautiful. And he does work around the house. And he doesn’t leave the toilet seat up. He is the exemplar, and the rest of the men in the world are just fighting for second place.
And that’s cool. Because what Trout gives the world on a nightly basis makes up for it. Greatness is one of those things that’s troublesome to quantify and even more difficult to appreciate in the moment, and yet Trout so radiates it, the existence is undeniable. So maybe he doesn’t know that “za” is an actual Scrabble word or that it’s never OK to park crooked. Whatever. The lesson learned when trying to figure out what Mike Trout isn’t good at: It’s hard.
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