It’ll have to do: Mike Trout steps onto the ‘big stage’ at the World Baseball Classic

PHOENIX. It’s better, or maybe funnier, because Vance Worley was a pitcher, and, you see, his name is kind of silly in nature, and he’s the kind of guy you might remember from the Philadelphia Phillies in the early 2010s. when he was known as “Vanimal”. ”

This guy—with his goggles and a uniform that would look like a costume designer would call him if he was being worn by an opponent in a teen sports movie—crossed out Mike Trout (Mike Trout!!!) swinging on a 90 mph lead that caught most of the box in the very center of the digitally rendered strike zone grid on MLB Gameday.

It’s hard to hit.

To players, the World Baseball Classic doesn’t feel like a playoff game. It’s not necessarily a hit on him, “but it’s completely different,” shortstop Trea Turner, whose Phillies played in the World Series last year, said before Game 1.

No, but seriously, Trout’s presence on Team USA is conspicuous, even among All-Stars and MVPs. The understated outfielder has dominated baseball as a paradigm of streamlined production so unequivocally that it has shaped our modern understanding of sports excellence, and so long ago that many years ago the interesting conversation moved from who is the best player in the game to who will the next best player in the game. His participation in the tournament that Major League Baseball seeks to promote was. Yet Trout’s presence is as remarkable for what the WBC can do for him as it is for what he can do for the WBC. That is: to put him on a stage that, if not as high as October, is at least somewhere above the regular season competition in Anaheim.

Trout has devoted his entire career to playing for the Angels, who seem intent on squandering that advantage by refusing to effectively build around him. If the problem was money (it isn’t), “Invite Mike Trout to Postseason” would be a very lucrative GoFundMe.

So instead of a postseason, Angelenos could now see Trout in a three-year tournament. Among the delightfully diverse sea of ​​different sweaters, the prevalence of “Trout” stood out. At least one Angels fan made a plunging neckline in honor of real trout heads by wearing a jersey bearing his former nickname “KIIIIIID” at Players Weekend. They had reason to believe that it would be an interesting game.

Team USA comes out with high expectations for obvious reasons, especially in the early rounds when they face team GB in their first WBC, for example.

This is where we found Trout, who faced Worley with one out at the end of the first half, with Team USA already falling behind thanks to a first home run win by Trace Thompson (born Los Angeles and current baseball employer; qualifying rules are vague enough to not create a team consisting of part-time cricketers). This was the first time Trout had played in a higher-stakes game since 2014.

March 11, 2023;  Phoenix, Arizona, USA;  US center fielder Mike Trout (27), teammate catcher JT Realmuto (10) and pitcher David Bednar (53) after beating Great Britain 6-2 at Chase Field.  Mandatory Credit: Chris Koduto-USA TODAY Sports
Mike Trout (27), teammates catcher JT Realmuto (10) and pitcher David Bednar (53) after beating Great Britain 6-2 at Chase Field. (Chris Koduto, USA TODAY Sports)

Since then, he’s dressed up and seen his name on the roster 914 times, hit the plate 3,964 times, hit 971 at a .302 average paired with his 52.9 fWAR. Relying on a baseball cliché that fits perfectly: it means a future Hall of Famer fails seven times out of ten.

Against Worley, who last threw the ball in the big leagues in 2017, he worked out a full count before cracking the ball down the center to no avail.

On Saturday, in his first World Baseball Classic appearance, Trout was 0-for-4. Walked too, stole base, scored. His uselessness did nothing to hinder his chances at Cooperstown, or hinder Team USA’s relatively unhindered run to a 6-2 win (it turned out Kyle Schwarber could have won by one stroke himself). Elsewhere, halfway around the world, the most exciting person in baseball – someone who can truly change the trajectory of the sport’s global popularity – .

There is a cynical interpretation of this run-of-the-mill isolated mediocrity: baseball is not suitable for do-or-die tournaments. It’s a problem with the version that was played – and then removed and then reinstated on a very limited basis – the Olympics, and it’s a problem with the WBC. (Some would say it’s even a problem with MLB’s own postseason.)

But in conclusion, it’s honestly a bummer in the face of the obvious benefits of games that generate so much unabashed enthusiasm from fans and players alike.

Whenever the Olympics take place, the joke is constantly repeated that in more obscure sports, there should be an average person trying to pole vault or slalom so that the audience can get a basic idea of ​​how difficult it is. Baseball never forgets. Produced with difficulty in the full sense of the word. The long regular season both smoothes and exacerbates this. By October, everyone has experienced so many setbacks and is ready to face an even greater challenge, still believing that they can succeed. Fans have been disappointed so many times too and are willing to get hurt again if it means a chance to see how their boyfriend does.

The WBC has no such backstory. But loving baseball means knowing that every time you see even Mike Trout doing what you hope for is like lightning in a bottle.


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