CINCINNATI -- Someday Major League Baseball will invite Mike Trout back to its midsummer showcase, sew some patch upon his sportcoat, have him wave to the adoring masses, maybe ask him to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. And those of us lucky enough to say "we knew him when" will recall nights like Tuesday, when he was 23, when he was brilliant, when the possibilities were as endless as the accolades.
Here was a night where baseball celebrated its past, as it does so often and does so well. The Franchise Four winners for each organization were announced, and the fan-voted four Greatest Living Players were unveiled on the field at Great American Ball Park before the All-Star Game presented by T-Mobile. Sandy Koufax delivered a strike to Johnny Bench with Willie Mays and Hank Aaron looking on -- and even your goosebumps had goosebumps.
But soon enough and sure enough, the Greatest Living Players gave way to the Greatest Living Active Player, a man from Millville, N.J., who captured the Ted Williams All-Star Game MVP Award presented by Chevrolet in the American League's 6-3 victory and proved once again that he is not just a representative of MLB's extraordinary youth movement but the signature star of this sport.
"This is a tremendous talent," said Bruce Bochy, whose National League squad was victimized by Trout's tone-setting leadoff home run off Zack Greinke. "He's going to be standing there, I think, with the guys we saw tonight."
That's two straight All-Star Game MVPs for Trout, if you're scoring at home. And no, that back-to-back feat has never been done before. Mays (1963 and '68), Steve Garvey ('74 and '78), Gary Carter ('81 and '84) and Cal Ripken Jr. ('91 and 2001) are the only other players to win two such honors in their entire careers.
Furthermore, that's three MVPs of one kind or another for Trout in the past calendar year, and we won't even delve into the second-place finishes in the 2012 and '13 AL MVP Award voting that arguably could have (or should have) gone another way. And anyway, why dredge up old arguments while Trout is busy compiling yet another AL MVP Award bid in the present tense?
Ask Trout to process all of this, and he is characteristically classy.
"It's obviously a humbling honor with the MVPs," he said. "Just the hard work in the offseason you put in, the hard work before games, the preparation. Obviously, my teammates, can't do it without them. They get on base, can't thank them enough. My coaches, they put me in great situations. They teach me how to play the game the right way. I can't thank them enough."
We can't praise Trout enough.
Yes, the 22-year-old Bryce Harper is having an incendiary season -- one that, at its current pace, very well may exceed anything even Trout has put together in a six-month spurt. But in terms of career compilation, Trout is still miles ahead of the early NL MVP Award favorite. Trout sprinted his way into the record books much the way he runs the bases, and Harper himself was caught summing up that speed by the in-game FOX Sports microphones in a way only he can.
"Trout can run, bro," Harper said to NL teammate Todd Frazier.
Astute analysis, that.
An even more entertaining analysis of Trout came from the AL's Adam Jones.
"I call him white Bo Jackson," Jones said. "Look at his body. He looks like a linebacker."
Not a bad comparison, considering Trout became the first man to hit a leadoff home run in an All-Star Game since Jackson did it in 1989. But even Bo knows he never put up the kind of numbers Trout can. Three years ago, Trout stole 49 bases. This year, he's on pace to hit 49 home runs. The dude's got a few tools.
"He's just an unbelievable player, man," Albert Pujols said. "I'm blessed to have the opportunity to wear the same uniform."
That's high praise from a three-time NL MVP Award winner and sure-fire Hall of Famer, and Pujols and Trout have developed a special bond on that Angels team. Before this Midsummer Classic, Pujols urged his young teammate to come out swinging against NL starter Zack Greinke. He wanted him to go yard on the first pitch.
It wasn't quite that easy. Trout was five pitches into his at-bat Greinke threw him a 94-mph fastball outside-middle. Trout reached out and smacked it over the right-field wall.
"You've got a two-inch window up in the zone," Greinke said. "If you throw it higher than that, he takes it. If you throw it lower, he does what he did. I was trying to go a couple inches higher than that, and I just missed my spot a little bit. I thought it was going to go farther than it did. Just barely going over was all it has to do."
The AL needed more than that to win this game, and Trout continued to influence events in the fifth, when he scored from second on a Prince Fielder single to even the score at 2, and in the seventh when he drew a walk. At that point, AL manager Ned Yost finally pulled Trout for pinch-runner Brock Holt, who wound up scoring a run of his own as the AL put it on ice.
"[Trout] was the one guy that I wanted to leave in the game the longest," Yost said. "He played longer than anybody else because he is such a talent."
Someday, it seems, we'll celebrate that talent the way we did Mays and Aaron and Koufax and Bench on Tuesday night. Baseball should always pause to appreciate the past. But with a terrific crop of 25-and-under talent pervading the leaderboards and one 23-year-old in particular enlivening our imaginations, the present looks mighty nice, too.