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KID DYNAMITE
TOM VERDUCCI
August 27, 2012
Angels teammates, dazzled fans and shell-shocked pitchers already wonder where Mike Trout, all of 21, belongs in the discussion of the game's alltime greats. Front offices in baseball pose a more vexing question: How the hell did we miss this guy?
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August 27, 2012

Kid Dynamite

Angels teammates, dazzled fans and shell-shocked pitchers already wonder where Mike Trout, all of 21, belongs in the discussion of the game's alltime greats. Front offices in baseball pose a more vexing question: How the hell did we miss this guy?

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The hammer of baseball's Thor must weigh 60 ounces. The Trouts don't know for sure because the steel training "bat" Mike has swung every winter since he was in Little League is not a bat at all, but a solid metal spoke to the steering wheel of a yacht, given to him by a family friend. The heavy rod rests against a wall in the finished basement. "We had a smaller version for Little League," Jeff says, "until he got bigger in high school. Just dry swings. It's part of his routine. This is Mike's playroom."

There is a television, a dartboard and a Ping-Pong table. "He's good at everything," Jeff says. "Darts, pool ... he kills you in everything. He's such a fierce competitor." Jeff beats Mike at darts or Ping-Pong maybe once every 20 games, and when he does, Jeff will announce he's done and start upstairs. Mike will have none of it. He does not end on a loss.

One night in high school Mike went midnight bowling with some buddies. At two in the morning Deb was awakened by her phone ringing. It was Mike. What could have happened at that dreadful hour?

"Mom, guess what? I bowled a 300!"

There are pictures of Mike on the basement walls. One of them captures him with that snow-cone smile in his first major league game, July 8, 2011, after making a running catch in the ninth inning at Seattle. Hunter stands beside him with the look of a man who has just seen the future of baseball. Another moment: an astonishing snapshot taken by a family friend from the third base stands at Camden Yards. It is the first home run of Mike's career. What's astonishing is that the blur of the pitch has entered the camera frame, more than halfway to the plate, and yet Trout, his back to the camera, still holds his bat in the loaded position. Trying to reconcile how his bat could have moved forward fast enough to meet a pitch that was nearly on top of him is like trying to multiply two random four-digit numbers in your head. It takes some work.

How 21 teams could have whiffed on Trout is all the more baffling when you understand that at age 17 Trout was the player he is today: a physical marvel whose speed and strength were fully formed. Trout was 16 when Morhardt first heard his name. Another scout mentioned that he had seen a kid named Trout at a showcase, and he could really run.

"Does he have a father who played minor league baseball?" Morhardt asked.

In 1984 the Twins drafted Morhardt, a first baseman at South Carolina, with their second-round pick. They shipped him to Double A Orlando. Playing next to him for the Orlando Twins was a second baseman selected in the fifth round of the '83 draft: Jeff Trout, a stocky switch-hitter from the University of Delaware who hit well from both sides of the plate and did the best he could to improve his defensive inadequacies. Trout and Morhardt played three seasons together in Orlando, a pairing that ended when Morhardt was promoted to Triple A Toledo, as high on the baseball ladder as he would climb.

Trout reported to Twins camp the following spring, in 1987, and figured he was ticketed for Triple A and maybe, down the road, some major league duty as a DH or utility infielder. He had hit .321 the previous season while playing mostly at third base, raising his career minor league average to .303. Near the end of camp the Twins sent Ron Gardenhire, then 29 and now Minnesota's manager, to Triple A, costing Trout a spot there. Trout was told he'd begin a fourth straight season in Double A.

Trout was 26. His knees hurt. He had had enough of Orlando, and the Twins were set with Gary Gaetti at third base. "I just couldn't see a light at the end of the tunnel," he says. He quit. "I got a teaching job, started a family," he says. "No regrets."

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