WASHINGTON — Bryce Harper and Mike Trout have been linked for years, from the amount of hype attached to them as amateurs, to being called up to the big leagues for good on the same day in 2012, winning rookie-of-the-year awards that season and being touted as two of the game’s brightest young stars.
But those looking to compare Harper, the Washington Nationals’ 21-year-old left fielder, to Trout, the Angels’ 22-year-old center fielder, as they prepared to meet in a regular-season game for the first time in Nationals Park on Monday night did so at their own risk.
“I really don’t care,” Harper said, when asked if comparisons between the two players were fair. “Everyone has their opinion. If they like him, they like him. If they like me, they like me. If they like both of us, then they know the game. If they don’t, they’re crazy.”
Does Harper ever compare himself to Trout, who clearly has been the better player over his first two-plus seasons?
“No, not at all, because I know I’m a damn good player, and he is too,” Harper said. “We’re going to roll through baseball the next 20 years, and hopefully make people turn their heads. He’s going to do it, and I’m going to do it. Guys like Yasiel Puig and Matt Harvey … there is a lot of great young talent in the game.”
Trout, the American League most-valuable-player runner-up the past two seasons, was a little more diplomatic in his response to a question about being compared to Harper, a 2011 Arizona Fall League teammate on the Scottsdale Scorpions.
“I kind of figured it, ever since we were in the fall league,” Trout said. “It’s pretty cool being compared to not just Harper but the Hall of Fame guys like Mickey Mantle, guys you watched play growing up, and guys that I haven’t seen play because I was born in 1991.”
Both Trout and Harper downplayed attempts by the media to bill this series as a Trout-Harper showdown.
“It’s not like we really compete against each other,” Trout said. “We’re both trying to get hits. For me, if I try to do too much, that’s when I get in trouble. I’m just trying to win ballgames.”
Said Harper: “There are two teams going at it, not just two guys. There are nine guys on the field trying to win ballgames. I know everyone is pretty excited, but it’s just another team we’re playing.”
Angels slugger Albert Pujols, who, like Trout and Harper, was one of the game’s brightest young stars when he broke in with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2001, understands the hype surrounding Trout versus Harper, but it’s not as if one will be pitching to the other.
“This is not an individual game — it’s a team effort,” Pujols said. “It’s not like you’re playing tennis or golf, when you play against an individual. You have to play against the team, and I’m sure that’s how Trout and Harper approach it.”
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