Trout's rising popularity follows him to camp
Sustained success spawns contract questions, which are answered with 'no comment'
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Mike Trout still can't believe how fast this is all happening.
Two springs ago, he was the teenager very few veterans knew, trying to find his way on the Angels' roster and looking to carve a spot for himself in this game. Now, he is in many ways the most popular player in baseball -- the guy for whom hundreds of fans line up to see at an airport, the one doing seven-hour photo shoots with Nike and the player at least one U.S. president refers to in speeches.
"It's just been crazy, and it's still going on," Trout said Wednesday morning in front of the handful of cameras and dozen reporters who showed up just to hear the Angels' 22-year-old center fielder speak for the first time this spring.
"It's one thing after another. With the people at the airport, with the seven-hour Nike shoot [on Tuesday] -- I never thought I'd be doing that when I was a kid -- and now being here in front of all the cameras. It makes you feel good, knowing that, as a kid, I wanted to be here and be in a place where I can compete and have fun in the big leagues. Now I'm here, and I'm living it up."
Trout opened up his makeshift news conference by saying he would not comment on a potential long-term contract, to which the Angels hope to get him signed shortly after Opening Day.
Asked about the rarity of the situation -- a contract extension generating so much discussion for a player who is four seasons away from free agency -- Trout said: "It's interesting what people are saying about it."
Then he smiled.
"But other than that, I don't want to comment."
"We won't, and he won't, let it become a distraction on the field," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's here to play baseball, and he's proved that the last couple of years."
Through his first two full seasons, Trout ranked second in the Majors in batting average (.324), second in OPS (.976), 14th in homers (57), second in steals (82) and easily first in Wins Above Replacement, making him a back-to-back runner-up to Miguel Cabrera for the American League Most Valuable Player Award.
It has reached a point where MVP-caliber seasons are just, well, normal.
"A lot of you guys brought up 'sophomore slump,' and I was making fun of it last year that there's going to be a 'junior slump' this year," Trout said. "But your numbers are going to be where they're going to be. I just like competing. I like being on the field; I like the adrenaline rush, running on the field, making that big play, getting that big hit. That's what I love to do, is play the game."
Now, he wants to get back to stealing more bases, after his total dropped to 33 in 2013 from 49 in '12.
"I thought my stolen bases were down last year," Trout said. "I have to take advantage of taking that extra base."
And he acknowledges that adjusting to left field last season, a product of Peter Bourjos' presence, made things a little difficult at times.
"It was a challenge, and it just didn't affect me in the outfield," Trout said. "At the plate, I was thinking about it."
With Bourjos in St. Louis in exchange for David Freese, a third baseman, center field is all Trout's again.
"Playing it your whole life, you always want to stay in your home," he said. "It's like taking you out of your home."
Trout checked into camp last spring weighing 241, ended the season at 238 and has checked in this year at 235.
"I feel great," he said. "Best shape I've ever been in."
Trout spent the offseason outdoors, in the woods or on a boat, as always. He caught a killer wahoo and barracuda with his father in Saint Lucia, attended a Sixers game against the Heat to watch LeBron James -- the two have yet to meet -- learned to actually enjoy those extensive photo shoots and gracefully embraced all the attention he continued to receive.
"If I'm sitting there at my locker at the start of spring and nobody's coming over," Trout said, "that means I'm not doing something right."
When Jacoby Ellsbury was introduced as a Yankee in December, the club's president, Randy Levine, named Trout as one of few players to whom he would give a 10-year contract.
When someone posted a video of Trout's box jump at the gym, it went viral.
When Trout arrived at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on Monday night, 200 fans were lined up to greet him.
And while discussing the farm bill Congress had just passed during a talk at the University of Michigan two weeks ago, President Barack Obama wanted to express how versatile it was, so he said: "It's like Mike Trout, for those of you who know baseball. It's somebody who's got a lot of tools and multitasks."
Trout was rabbit hunting when Obama said that, and his phone instantly began buzzing in his pocket.
It was only the latest example of just how big this whole thing has become.
"I really can't explain just the last couple years of my life," Trout said. "It's been great. Having fun doing it. That's what I wanted to be as a kid growing up, and I'm taking full advantage of it. No better place to be right now."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.