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Baseball / Sports

Trout attracts crowds, and maybe a big contract from Angels

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Mike Trout is 22, a mere two years into his big league career, and he's considered to be among the best players in baseball. He could soon also be one of the game's highest-paid players if his agent and the Los Angeles Angels can hammer out a contract extension.

President Barack Obama invoked the center fielder's name in an early-February speech about a farm bill, saying the legislation was "like Mike Trout ... somebody who's got a lot of tools." Trout tweeted Monday that he was flying to Phoenix, and about 200 people greeted him at the airport.

Trout spent seven hours Tuesday in a photo shoot for a shoe company, one of several companies he endorses. And he got the star treatment Wednesday in Tempe Diablo Stadium, where he addressed about two dozen media members before his first spring-training workout.

"Just to get a shoutout from the president is a crazy feeling," said Trout, the American League most-valuable-player runner-up in 2012 and 2013. "I really can't explain the last two years of my life. It's been great. I'm having fun.

"Being here in front of the cameras, competing in the big leagues ... it makes you feel good, knowing this is where you wanted to be as a kid. I'm taking full advantage of it. There's no better place to be right now."

Yes, it's good to be Mike Trout, a dynamic five-tool player who has done nothing to diminish comparisons between him and Mickey Mantle -- when Trout was 18.

Trout is one of seven players in major league history to amass 350 hits, 300 runs and 175 walks before his age-22 season. Mantle and Ted Williams are on that list. He is one of four players to hit .320 with 50 home runs and 200 runs in his first two seasons. Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Albert Pujols are the others.

"It's hard to imagine him getting better, but it wouldn't surprise me," Oakland General Manager Billy Beane said. "With a talent like that, he's great for the game. I love him when he's playing the Rangers or Mariners. For me, he's painful and fun to watch at the same time."

The 6-foot-2 Trout, who checked in at 235 pounds -- three fewer than what he ended at last season -- wants to improve his jumps on the bases, his defense and help the Angels avoid the sluggish starts that torpedoed their playoff hopes the last two seasons. Moving back to center field after opening 2013 in left field should help.

"Playing center field, I feel a lot more comfortable coming into the season," Trout said. "Left field was a big adjustment, a challenge for me. It affected me at the plate sometimes, thinking about it."

There was little, if any, drop in his production, though. Trout hit .326 with a .399 on-base percentage, .564 slugging percentage, 30 home runs, 83 runs batted in, 129 runs and 49 stolen bases in 2012, winning AL rookie-of-the-year honors. He had a .323/.432/.557 slash line with 27 home runs, 97 RBIs, 109 runs and 33 stolen bases in 2013.

Contract negotiations could be a distraction this spring. Trout addressed talks before reporters brought them up.

"I know what you're going to ask, but I don't want to comment on contract negotiations," Trout said. "I'm here to get ready for the season."

It can be difficult for young stars with so many demands to remain focused on the field, but Trout performed exceptionally while his popularity has soared, and manager Mike Scioscia doesn't see that changing.

"Mike understands he's a premier player and that there's a lot of interest in what he does on and off the field, whether it's endorsements or someone Tweeting that he's eating an ice cream at this store," Scioscia said. "It comes with the territory. Mike is very level-headed. He won't let it be a distraction."

About the same time Trout spoke to the media in Tempe, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter spoke in Tampa, Fla., about his decision to retire after the 2014 season. The immensely popular players share similar personalities and approaches.

"I try to always do the right thing, on and off the field, and stay out of trouble," said Trout, who hails from Millville, N.J. "Jeter, he was my role model growing up. Seeing what he's done the last 20 years, it's remarkable. He's always been my favorite player to watch, the way he carries himself on and off the field."

When Trout arrived for his first big league camp in 2011, he was nervous speaking to reporters, his knees shaking nonstop and his short answers filled with cliches. But Trout looked more comfortable Wednesday, joking with reporters and seemingly basking in the spotlight.

"If I'm sitting at my locker at the start of spring training and nobody's coming over, that means I'm not doing something right," Trout said. "I have to go out there and keep doing my thing, playing hard."

(c)2014 Los Angeles Times

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