NEW YORK - Mike Trout finds himself in the midst of one of the most frustrating and successful seasons of his baseball life.
The 2009 Millville High School graduate won the American League Rookie of the Year Award last season. The Los Angeles Angels outfielder has scoffed at the sophomore jinx this year. The 22-year-old began Monday among the league leaders in batting average (.330), hits (147), runs (82) and stolen bases (26). He is the first player in AL history with at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in their 20- and 21-year-old seasons.
But the Angels are struggling. They began Monday 53-63, 14 games behind the first place Texas Rangers in the AL West. The Angels figured to be a playoff team at the start of the season because they signed prized free agents Albert Pujols last year and Josh Hamilton this year.
"It's tough losing," Trout said. "Everybody hates losing. Coming out of spring with the team we had on paper, the writers were saying we were the team to beat. It's just been tough. We haven't lived up to it."
Trout says he doesn't think much about individual numbers.
"I just go out there and play," he said. "If I'm at home and we're just sitting around talking, maybe I'll think about it a little bit."
Trout and the Angels began a four-game series in New York against the Yankees on Monday night.
Trout visited the Empire State Building on Monday morning to celebrate the renovation of the Millville High School baseball field. Trout and Millville players posed for pictures on the skyscraper's 86th-floor observatory deck. Trout then spoke with the media at Foley's Pub, located across the street from the historic building. Trout couldn't make it to Millville because of his schedule, so the team came to New York City.
Baseball history is filled with players who never topped their rookie performances. Trout became one of the most recognizable faces in baseball last year, especially after he made a leaping catch over the center field fence in Baltimore to rob the Orioles' J.J. Hardy of a home run. The Angels replay the catch on their video scoreboard before every home game.
"I wouldn't say there was pressure," Trout said when asked about repeating last year's success. "But the first couple of weeks I was pressing a little bit, swinging at balls and not giving myself a chance to get a hit."
Trout batted just .261 (29-for-111) in April.
Trout's parents, Jeff and Debbie, say their son stayed level-headed through the mini-slump. Trout still talks to his mother every day.
"It's big-league baseball," Jeff said. "He's going to go through stages where he's 0-for-25, I think he was a little concerned, but not too much. He's a confident enough kid. He made some adjustments."
Trout worked on his swing. He watched video and got some tips from Angels first baseman Albert Pujols, who is one of the game's best hitters.
"I sat down with Albert and compared my stance from last year," Trout said. "My front foot was open. I was coming off balls. Some of the balls I was fouling off, I was hitting last year."
Things began to turn around in Oakland during a three-game series against the Athletics the last weekend of April. He went 4-for-8 with a home run and three runs scored in the final two games.
Since then, Trout arguably has been baseball's best player.
"I shortened my zone and put good swings on the ball," Trout said.
He provided one of the season's highlights when he hit for the cycle May 21 against the Seattle Mariners. Trout - then 21 years, 287 days old - is the youngest AL player to ever hit for the cycle.
Trout's family watched the game on television from their Millville home. Trout needed a home run in his last at bat.
The game started in California and it was after midnight on the East Coast. The Trout's young granddaughter was asleep upstairs. The family made a pact to stay as quiet as possible. They broke it as soon as the ball left Mike's bat.
"As soon as he hit the ball, I went nuts," Jeff said. "We were jumping around the house like little kids."
The cheers weren't loud enough to awaken the granddaughter.
"That was exciting," Jeff said. "That was a neat night."
Trout, along with players such Bryce Harper of Washington Nationals and Manny Machado of the Orioles, is one of the young players who are changing baseball's image. They are positive stories at a time when other players are being suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs.
Trout's parents said they have talked to their son about the danger of those drugs.
Trout made news Monday when he said on New York sports radio station WFAN that players who use PEDs should be banned for life.
"I just play my game," Trout said. "Everything is 100 percent natural. I just take pride in working hard."
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