BALTIMORE -- It’s easy to forget that Mike Trout, for all his otherworldly talent, was still living with his parents six months ago.
His dad hasn’t forgotten.
Last Monday, when White Sox slugger Paul Konerko went hitless and Trout moved past him to take over the batting lead in the American League, Jeff Trout turned to his son and offered some fatherly advice:
“Now get to bed. You’ve got a game tomorrow,” he told his youngest boy, who was spending a rare off-day at home.
That’s hardly the only surreal moment Jeff and his wife Deb have experienced since their son made his major league debut last July. The Trouts now get so many random text messages and phone calls — most from people they don’t recognize — they’re thinking of changing their number. And then there are the friends requesting autographs, family members asking for baseballs, and an endless line of would-be advisors, agents, pitchmen and snake-oil salesmen all angling for a piece of baseball’s newest superstar.
It’s been a little overwhelming for a pair of schoolteachers from small-town New Jersey.
“That is the side that most people never understand,” Jeff Trout says. “It’s hard to explain to people. Is it a downside? It’s a different side.”
If the climb to big league stardom has been an express-elevator trip to the top for Mike, what his parents have experienced has been more like a roller-coaster ride with several peaks and valleys along the way. So while they’re beyond grateful for Mike’s success — “Whoever thought that Mike Trout would be in the same dugout and talking to Albert Pujols?” his mother said — they admit it’s been a little overwhelming as well.
“The ongoing joke in our neighborhood is people pulling up in our driveway and saying ‘Hey, you got any tickets?,’” Deb says. “We just laugh it off, but really that’s what it’s come to. I don’t know half these numbers that call my home.”
Even once-simple tasks have become impossible. Last week in Baltimore, a crowd mobbed the Trouts as they were leaving the ballpark, interrupting a long-planned family dinner. If a friend of Angels teammate Torii Hunter hadn’t intervened and rushed them to their car, the Trouts might still be there.
“Life,” says Jeff, “is different.”
This certainly wasn’t what the Trouts had in mind when they were ferrying their son to tee-ball games and Little League practices.
Even before Mike was born, Jeff knew a little bit about pro ball — one reason why he never pushed any of his three children into sports. A scrappy infielder at the University of Delaware, Jeff was taken by the Minnesota Twins in the fifth round of the 1983 draft. He hit .303 in four minor league seasons, but his career stalled in double A.
It was an experience that taught him the game can be fickle and the odds of making it to the big leagues are long. So though, like most dads, he had high hopes for his son, Jeff tempered his enthusiasm with a heavy dose of realism.
“As he grew, I realized that [Mike] was specially talented athletically,” Jeff says. “But the big leagues were never a real concern of ours. Pro ball really wasn’t. We’re both teachers so we both kind of said, ‘Look, if you keep working at it you can maybe get an education out of this.’”
He will. A provision in the first contract the Trouts signed with the Angels required the team to set aside more than $100,000 for Mike’s college tuition. If that was all their son got out of baseball, the Trouts insist they would have been happy.
But things have changed in the last year. Sunday, Mike could be named to the AL All-Star team, becoming the first player to earn that honor before his 21st birthday since Alex Rodriguez in 1996. And this fall he could become just the second player in franchise history to be voted the league’s rookie of the year.
Trout leads the league in batting average and stolen bases. Those once-ridiculous comparisons to Mickey Mantle, another 20-year-old All-Star? They suddenly don’t seem so ridiculous anymore.
That leaves the Trouts with a new worry: Has this all been too much too fast?
“That’s always in the back of our minds,” Jeff says. “He’s taking us to places we never felt we’d be. We appreciate it. We cherish it. We don’t take it for granted.
“And we’re there for him if he needs anything.”
But should it all end tomorrow, don’t expect to hear the Trouts complaining. After all, they never set out to raise a superstar outfielder. They were just trying to raise a son.
“That’s one thing about Mike,” Deb says. “He may be a great baseball player, but he’s a better person. That’s pretty good.”