This week, as the baseball world was aflame with the hope and excitement that typically accompanies Opening Day, some of the sport’s louder voices demanded we talk about the “face of baseball”...or rather, the lack of a “face of baseball”. It’s a conversation that’s meant to get people engaged, or just plain riled up, but it’s also tired and boring.
I’m not surprised that so many are spinning their wheels in this cliched, topical mud. My only surprise is that it came so soon in the year, and not around June or July, when Mike Trout would be, once again, near the top of every important statistical leaderboard, and some cranky writer would feel compelled to tell us all “Yeah, Trout’s amazing, but he’s not a superstar” or something similarly pointless and flat out wrong.
Nope, this year we got that conversation started off right as the season got underway, but that is quite serendipitous for the debut of MLB Network’s newest film, Mike Trout: Millville to MVP. The doc premieres this Sunday, April 9th, perfect timing to act as a giant, hour-plus long subtweet to everybody still wasting precious characters or column space arguing about who is baseball’s figurehead. It’s Mike Trout. He’s beyond “face of the game”...he’s the body and soul of the game, and the epitome of it’s undeniable allure.
Just ask anybody from Millville, NJ; Trout’s hometown and stomping grounds. They’ll tell you what’s up.
Millville is a town of 28K that’s an hour away from Philadelphia and comes off looking as small town Americana as you can get. A large portion of the film takes place in Millville, specifically the homespun, family-run Jim’s Lunch, a diner that apparently makes a cheeseburger so good that Trout himself has to restrain himself from eating too many of on any given day when he’s back home.
The denizens of Millville love Trout as much as they love their own city (and Jim’s Lunch), but you quickly learn that it’s only partially due to his on-field skills. They all KNOW Mike Trout, and when they practically empty out the entire town to go see him play a game against the Phillies, it’s in large part because they want to see the humble, kind, caring and friendly kid they’ve known for years get his time in the spotlight. The insane baseball feats he puts on display are secondary.
This is what we should be talking about when we’re dragged down into the “Face of baseball” quagmire; I’ve done my very best to try and dispel any and all knocks on Trout’s personal brand, for lack of a better term. Everybody knows he’s the best on the planet (if they don’t, they’re only fooling themselves), but that’s never stopped baseball writers from expressing their odd disappointment in how Trout isn’t the type of superstar they want.
I’ve punched in plenty words on this very site, in which I try to shoot down all of those misconceptions, or wrong-headed thinking. I’ve tried to spread the Trout gospel as calmly as possible, when flying in the face of such fetid arguments. No, you won’t get some crazy tweet from Trout that will provide you with the day’s content, and you won’t get any classically comical or stand-offish remarks from him in any interview.
You will not see him flipping his bat a dozen times a week, or jawing at too many dugouts or opposing pitchers. You’re lucky if you get to see him openly disagreeing with an umpire’s call. But outside of those typical jock accoutrements we’re so used to seeing in this day and age, he has all the tools and derring-do that baseball fans from all over the world crave.
Like I’ve said before, til blue in the face, Mike Trout will provide all the excitement you can take, and then some, but it will all be on the baseball field. You will see him thumping his chest after unbelievable catches, you’ll see him trade elated gestures between teammates during a big offensive inning. It’s all there, ready for the world’s consumption, if they’d just open their eyes and accept it.
I’ve also held that, when it comes to talking Mike Trout, we have an adult problem. What I mean by that is we’re seeing these takes coming from writers that are past their Sandlot days, by varying degrees of time, and therefore they aren’t going to get Trout’s attention. Mike Trout is for the children. Plain and simple.
I once stood near him, silent and out of the way as possible, as he interacted with a group of little leaguers from Rancho Cucamonga, CA. For a good 15 minutes, he was their best friend. He answered questions, asked questions, joked with them, shared some baseball knowledge and basically approached them on their level, treating them like they were the most important thing in the world.
But to him, it was no act. They ARE the future, the future of the world and the future of this brilliant and intoxicating sport. He’s notorious for taking his time out, be it before a game, on an off day, or while he’s walking out of the dugout to take some BP, to give kids autographs.
It’s produced a few viral moments already that should cement the idea that if you’re not seeing the face of baseball in Mike Trout, then you’re looking through eyes that are just too old or perhaps jaded; it’s as if you were a comic book hound who grew up, and can now only find delight in the edginess of graphic novels like Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns, while the uplifting and Boy Scout-ish adventures of silver age Superman no longer give their mind that sense of wonder and hope.
So what is the deal with these takes still surfacing? Well, there’s the typical, east-coast bias at work, for one. A lot of people bemoaning the lack of an MLB-equivalent LeBron James are really just saying “Derek Jeter and David Ortiz aren’t around anymore. Guess baseball is dead, huh guys?”. Even in Mike Trout: Millville to MVP, there is a scene in which Trout talks about the “Is Mike Trout being wasted?” articles that pop up every so often, and we have a talking head mention that Trout has yet to have his big, national-stage moment, while the film cuts to Jeter and Big Papi clips.
It could also have to do with Trout coming from a small NJ town, where many scouts were quick to overlook, strictly due to it being unknown as a baseball hotbed. At one point in the film, Billy Beane talks about how surprised he was that he was being told that he needed to go to middle-of-nowhere New Jersey to see a kid play ball. But he did make the trek, and lucky for us, Trout went 0-4 and didn’t give Beane a good enough look to pull the trigger come draft day (but as the documentary points out, to my sheer joy, there were a BUNCH of teams that past on him come draft day).
So he comes from a place off the beaten path, and then he’s drafted by a team that plays on the west coast, and has only reached the playoffs once this decade (a quick trouncing from the Royals in the 2014 ALDS). Here we have the greatest player in the known universe, and he’s making people actually have to work to get to see him, in one way or another.
Combine that with Trout’s off-the-field stoicism and his penchant for doing nothing that would remotely tarnish his brand or his name, and you’ve got fodder for plenty of silliness that ultimately gets us nowhere except to an MLB community that obfuscates generational talent and a commitment to being a kind person and good role model, all because Trout is a square peg that just wont fit in their preconceived notions or tropes of modern day, larger-than-life pro athletes.
I’ve done my piece to make people see the light, but I can only shout into the ether so much.
Then here comes Millville to MVP, and not a second too late. It’s the first major piece of Mike Trout proselytizing that focuses on who he is, and what he means to a town, to Angels fans, and to kids all over the globe. Finally, I have some backup; MLB itself steps out from the shadows to show the rest of baseball’s fans...the ones that aren’t as lucky as us, and don’t get to see him every night...that he’s the genuine article, and that maybe they’ve been pining for some silver age Superman-type hero all along.
The more we see this type of sentiment in big time, national media, the more us Angels fans will have protected ourselves from dangerous eyeroll injuries that can be induced by seeing one of those scorching hot “Mike Trout is boring” takes. The veil is being lifted, ever so slowly, on the greatest player I’ve ever seen, and most of the sports world is just not used to having to take time to get to know these guys that we prop up as living legends. Most of the time, they will have already been in your face, in your feed, in your timeline, giving those in search of the shallow ballplayer waters exactly what they want.
Mike Trout will only give you the best baseball playing on the planet, and he’ll only be a kind, almost goofy, kid from a small town in New Jersey, that would stop to sign a dozen kids’ baseballs even if he were running late to his own wedding (in the live Q&A that Halos Heaven attended before the movie screening, Trout said he wont be getting married until next offseason, at the very soonest, but no official date has been set). He will only be Mike Trout, from Millville, NJ.
Once you get to know that Mike Trout, though, all of a sudden you understand just how ridiculous it is to say there is no face of baseball. It’s Mike Trout. Millville to MVP serves as the perfect invitation for the rest of the nation to get to know what makes Trout so special, to show them what we’ve been trying to say all along.
Mike Trout: Millville to MVP premiers Sunday, April 9th at 5pm PST. Set your DVRs, as if you needed telling.