The Millville Marvel.
I asked a man who is not given to gusts of hyperbole and whose opinion I respect: Whom does this Trout Wunderkind remind you of? And without so much as a hiccup, he replied: Mick.
As in Mantle.
Whoa. This is close to heresy. For the man and I have long shared the belief that Mickey Mantle was the greatest one-legged ballplayer we ever saw and might have been the greatest two-legged one if he hadn't torn up his knees.
(A quick digression here: In one of the most poignant and bittersweet questions I have ever read from an athlete, Mickey Mantle asked: "Did you ever see me play? I mean, when I was me?")
And now comes The Millville Meteor for our dubious, hard-eyed, show-me inspection. The critics borrow from the greats, mix-and-matching them, fitting jigsaw pieces, and the ratings are off the charts. In him they say they see elements of Foxx and Cobb, Hornsby, too.
Oh, c'mon. Yes, really, and Griffey Junior and A-Rod. Oh, please. Bonds BS (Before Steroids), Mays and DiMag and Williams. Careful now, you'll hyperventilate.
He could be this and he should be that, and hello Cooperstown, reservation for the Trout party.
And all you can think is that this is one ridiculously monster load to be strapping on the back of someone only recently out of his teens and Millville High School in South Jersey.
And, yes, what might the Mick think?
Would he see his early self roaming out there in the green pastures, running down gappers (Remember what they said about Willie's glove? It's where triples go to die.) The Millville Masher is without fear, scaling the outfield walls like a mountain goat, airborne and ricocheting, and, well, they swear he took away one home run when his hips reached the top of a 7-foot wall, which is a serious elevator indeed.
A couple of generations ago they would have said he brings a full tool belt, meaning proficiency in all phases of the game - hitting for average and power, being fleet of foot and strong of arm, keen of eye. Remember when 30-30 was a benchmark? Well, he's gotten that right out of the box. And if you believe the talent evaluators, he could soon be on the doorstep of 40-40. Well then, could 50-50 be totally outrageous? Well, yes. Probably. Kinda. Maybe. Sorta.
And this is what you like, how he plays the game, with the gulping gusto and ravenous abandon of a Wing Bowl gourmand.
He has put up numbers matched only by a very few, and all of them are either in Cooperstown or heading that way. And we should root for him because the game needs him, needs fresh blood, needs replenishing. We all need heroes, because at too many intersections these days it seems one more pedestal has toppled.
The Millville Monster, by all accounts, is properly humble, uncomplicated, and unimpressed with himself, and in this age of the strutting egos, isn't that refreshing? Old School oozes from him.
He parachuted into our game quite without warning. The Angels began the season by going 6-14, which promoted this: Boys, meet your new leadoff man and centerfielder. Guys, this here is The Millville Mechanic. What's this, a raw rookie? Surely you jest. So what are his credentials? Well, uh, taken in the first round of the 2009 draft, as the 25th pick.
And what of those myopic 24 who passed over him?
Witness protection program.
All he has done is lead the league in runs scored. And steals. And OPS. And hit .326. And play defense with style and grace and fix-bayonets, follow-me-men resolve. And in the process he has made himself a stone-cold lock for American League rookie of the year. Really, it should be a clean sweep. In the process, he injected himself into another competition: AL MVP.
He should finish runner-up, second to Detroit's Miguel Cabrera, who, as you may have heard, did what couldn't be done, or at least hadn't been done for 45 years: hit for a .330 average, 44 home runs, 139 RBIs.
They make an interesting tandem - the veteran from whom much was expected and the rookie they'd never heard of.
The ballots are in, the writers have written, but the results will not be announced until after the World Series. This process used to be fairly uncomplicated until the numbers mavens began to invent statistics, cluttering up a sport already awash in figures with a litany of what-if's and might-be's.
The only certainty is that the Millville Marvel walks off with rookie of the year and finishes first or second in the MVP balloting. His will be a long and star-spangled run.
And the Mick, I think, would approve.