- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
ATLANTA -- Jeff Trout stays up to watch his son Mike play, no matter what part of the world he happens to be in. Mike knows this because, no matter how late the Angels’ games end, he gets text messages from his parents after the final pitch is thrown.
“He doesn’t miss a game,” Mike Trout said Saturday.
The words are positive, as they have always been, from the time Mike was growing into his love for baseball to now, when he’s generally regarded as the best in his sport. Way to get some knocks, his father might text if Trout has a few hits.
“He’s never negative,” Trout said. “If I go through a little skid or something, he’ll say, ‘Keep a smile on your face,’ or ‘Keep your head on straight.’
"There have been times when he might’ve said, ‘Do this,’ or ‘Do that,’ and I’d be thinking too much out there. He knows I got here for a reason and that it'll turn around.”
What rival players and evaluators love about Mike Trout, beyond his talent, is the unabashed joy he plays with, and this seems to stem from the way he was raised into the game by his mother, Debbie, and father, Jeff.
“They always told me that if they had to put a uniform on me, they didn’t want to do it,” Mike Trout said. “Baseball was a thing where I woke up every day ready to play. It’s always been fun. I was probably driving them crazy to play.”
Mike Trout would get up early and be waiting for his mom to take him to the field or for his father to go outside to play catch, throw batting practice to him or play whiffle ball in their backyard. The driveway was the home run boundary to left field, and in right, hitting the ball into the woods, beyond the grass of the lawn, was pay dirt.
“Every chance he got, he would throw to me,” Mike Trout said. “I’d have my buddies over and he’d be out there playing with us.”
He started beating his father in whiffle ball, he recalls, sometime when he was about 8, 9 or 10, and as Mike pitched to his father -- with Jeff Trout bent down in a crouch or sitting on a bucket to frame the strike zone -- he started to occasionally get the ball past him when he was a sophomore in high school. Such is the life of the father of a prodigy.
To this day in the offseason, Jeff Trout will flip balls to his son in the cage, but he doesn’t throw a lot of hitting advice at his son, doesn’t break down his mechanics. What he does is encourage.
“That’s why he’s always been so helpful,” Mike Trout said.
Jeff Trout had reason to send positive texts to his son Saturday night, after Mike had three hits and four RBIs and the Angels broke out in extra innings to beat the Braves. This is how Kole Calhoun saved the game.
Mike Trout is the third-fastest player to reach 75 career home runs and 75 career steals in MLB history, doing so in his 399th game. Only Eric Davis (335) and Alfonso Soriano (395) did it in fewer games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Other Angels-Braves notes
• We have a small sample for 2014, but Josh Hamilton has basically doubled his OPS against lefties since last year, improving from .596 to his current 1.190. He is chasing fewer pitches out of the strike zone, according to FanGraphs, down from 45.4 percent in 2012 to 36.9 percent this year, and he is hitting .342 in 19 games.
Between rounds of batting practice Saturday evening, Hamilton explained that he had a shift in thought process early in spring training.