Trout already a role model

Posted: May 15, 2014

THE HARDEST part about being a parent may be imparting wisdom. Your logic could be rock solid, your delivery empathetic and on point, but the words just don't have the intended impact.

So when Raul Ibanez took his 12-year-old son to meet his favorite player this spring, there was an ulterior motive.

"Did you do pushups when you were a kid?'' he asked Mike Trout.

"Because I'm very big into the fitness thing,'' said the 41-year-old Ibanez, now in his 19th major league season. "And he said, 'Yeah, I did.' And later I was in my room and I could hear the pull-up bar going. And my son was doing pushups on his own because he heard it from him.

"That's the power and the influence of a role model. As a dad, you say things. But somebody like that can say the same exact thing and it takes.''

Millville's favorite role model finally made it home last night. Playing in front of friends and family, and playing against more than a few role models of his own, Trout stepped into the batter's box for his first-ever Citizens Bank Park at-bat at about 7:10 p.m. On the fourth pitch, he bounced a ball to one of his boyhood heroes, Jimmy Rollins, who threw him out by a hair at first.

It was a routine ground out, except that it never looks that way when Trout runs the bases.

"The other day, he got jammed and hit a ground ball to second base and beat it out," Ibanez said. "It wasn't even a ball that anyone should beat out but there was a little mistake on the other team's part. And it wound up leading to a couple of runs.

"That's why I would tell any kid what I tell my kid: Play like that. Or when I was with the Phillies, play like Chase.''

Utley, of course, is the Phillies player Trout paid the most attention to when he was a high school player in Millville, N.J., a guy his father pointed to for lessons on work ethic and effort. And while there are similarities, Trout's approach to the game is no mimic of the Phillies' second baseman.

The next smile Utley wears between the white lines may be his first. Trout smiles easily and often, peering often into the bleachers to both sides of him in centerfield, even when he doesn't personally know half the patrons, as he seemed to last night. More than 8,000 Millville citizens were said to attend the Angels' 4-3 victory over the Phillies last night, including his high school coach and members of current and past teams who filled the section in right-center close enough that they could shout to him.

And that's what they did, too, a streaming conversation occupying Trout during the long stretches of game when he had little to do.

"I knew a couple of people out there,'' he said. "Guys that I know, just throw some jokes at 'em, get them laughing up there. They got me a couple of times. It's a good feeling.''

During a 15-minute session with the media before the game, Trout said, "I always look up at the stands and mess with people anyways. I've got to have fun out there. Just sitting out there bored if I'm not getting fly balls or nothing. Look up at the stands and if the people are ragging on me, I've got to give them some recognition.''

Trout did a whole lot of recognizing last night. His old team got to watch batting practice on the field, the Millville High School choir sang the anthem, and he signed autographs along the leftfield stands. That last part is no novelty - "He signs so many autographs, maybe more than I've ever seen,'' said Ibanez - but this session went on until the Angels centerfielder was practically forced to leave the field.

"For me, as a kid, if I saw a professional athlete I definitely wanted an autograph or a picture,'' he said. "So every chance I get to take a picture, give an autograph to a kid, I'm going to try to do it.''

The game? Oh yeah, that. The fanfare, and the slim Angels' victory, obscured what constitutes a big slump for the two-time MVP runner-up. Batting .132 over the 10 games before last night, Trout singled sharply up the middle in his second at-bat and reached base on Cody Asche's third error of the game. He also whiffed on a 3-2 pitch out of the zone, his 14th punchout over the last 11 games.

"Just anxious,'' he said. "I've been swinging at some pitches up lately. Just getting myself out sometimes.''

He said this with an analyst's distance, and the shrug of a short-memory veteran. Still just 22, it's hard to overstate how big of a deal he would be if he played here all the time, or even in some other East Coast city, instead of for that other Southern California team. The speed, the power, the big arm, combined with a blue-collar approach that belies his freakish talent.

"He's very humble,'' said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. "But his confidence is off the charts.''

"I think the greatest compliment I could give him is this,'' Ibanez said. "They've got stats for everything he does on the field. But he's got great parents. And they did a tremendous job of raising him. He cares about other people. He does things the right way. He respects the game, respects his teammates, respects the fans. And it's incredible how well he handles his success at that age. And how conscious he is of his status as a role model.''


Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

Columns: ph.ly/Donnellon

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