The former boy wonder is now a man, 25 years old, engaged to be married, already a two-time American League most valuable player and five-time All-Star, and he smiled Thursday as he reflected on his transition to adulthood.
“It’s going by so quick,” Mike Trout said.
He shook his head.
“It seems like yesterday I was drafted.”
And if the next 10 or 15 years are anything like the last five, this will too soon be over.
It’s a scary thought, that all of this will be a memory at some point. However, the recognition and acceptance of this inevitability are what allow to Trout to strike a refreshingly balanced approach to his profession.
Trout, who is entering the third season of a six-year, $144.5-million contract, is open about the kind of player he wants to be.
“I want to be the best player there is,” he said.
But speak to the people around him and what they will tell you isn’t about how hard he hit a particular ball or how fast he ran on a certain play. They will tell you about his smile.
“Pretty happy-go-lucky type of guy,” said infielder Danny Espinosa, whose locker is next to Trout’s.
“He plays like a kid,” third base coach Ron Roenicke said.
Roenicke was Mike Scioscia’s bench coach when Trout was a teenage prospect in the Angels’ minor league camp. On a few occasions, Trout was called over to the major league side of the complex to play in exhibition games.
Roenicke recalled how Trout was always in a good mood. How he had an abundance of energy. And how he signed autographs every day.
Roenicke went on to become the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers and, later, the third base coach of the Dodgers. Watching Trout from a distance, he wondered how the young man had changed.
Roenicke found out when he returned to the Angels last year: Trout was always in a good mood. He had an abundance of energy. He signed autographs every day.
“It still seems like he’s the same guy,” Roenicke said.
Roenicke cracked a smile of his own.
“I think when everybody thinks about playing in the big leagues when they’re kids, that’s what you envision,” Roenicke said. “You don’t envision this grind to have to get through it. You envision being there, having fun.”
But Trout acknowledged losing has weighed on him.
Last season, they finished fourth in the American League West with a 74-88 record.
“Obviously, losing sucks,” Trout said. “It’s frustrating. But it’s not like we’re trying to lose. We want to win. We’ve been banged up the last few years.”
If he was frustrated, he didn’t show it. As the losses mounted, he continued smiling. He continued sharing laughs with teammates.
“It’s still playing a game,” Trout said. “I’m still having fun. It’s never changed. I’ve always told myself that if I’m not having fun out there, I don’t want to play.”
He said he is determined to do his part to change the Angels’ fortunes, which he thinks he can do by stealing a few more bases than the 30 he stole last year on his way to claiming his second MVP award.
“I want to be the best player on the field at all times,” Trout said. “That’s my mentality. People can think differently, but I try to prove people wrong.”
Roenicke compared Trout’s drive to Albert Pujols’. As a player, Roenicke was a teammate of Mike Schmidt on the Philadelphia Phillies and Tony Gwynn on the San Diego Padres. They were like that too.
Roenicke remarked about Trout’s enlisting the help of Kole Calhoun to improve his throwing arm.
“He didn’t like the way he threw the ball in the outfield his first few years, so he and Kole made a big effort last year to make sure they were playing long toss every day,” Roenicke said. “I saw a huge improvement in his throwing. All of a sudden, he becomes this really good thrower last year.”
Watching Trout work reminded Espinosa of his former teammate on the Washington Nationals, Bryce Harper.
Trout has often drawn comparisons to Derek Jeter for his ability to avoid controversy, but that isn’t the only part of his childhood hero he has emulated. Don Mattingly has called Jeter the toughest player he has ever been around, saying Jeter often played through bumps and bruises that weren’t made public. Trout, who has averaged 158 games for the last four seasons, would like to develop a similar reputation.
His time here is limited, after all. He doesn’t want to spend it on a bench.
Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez