TEMPE, Ariz. — How did Mike Trout celebrate his Most Valuable Player award?

With a trip to the hospital and an IV hookup. Followed by a week on the couch, sick as he can ever remember.

So the takeaway is, as the celebrated center fielder moves forward as the leader of the Angels and is cemented as one of the game’s post-Derek Jeter pillars, a winter virus finally did what few pitchers have been able to accomplish.

It stopped this man of perpetual motion in his tracks.

“I didn’t get off the couch for a week,” says Trout, who was forced to call in sick to the New York Baseball Writers’ Association of America dinner in late January, where he was supposed to accept his award. “Usually, I can’t sit on a couch longer than 25 or 30 minutes. I like to move around, do stuff, be outside. It put me on the couch for a week, not even getting up.

“Chicken noodle soup every day. Pedialyte. I still can feel it when I talk about it. I couldn’t lift my arms. My dad carried me to the car. It was weird.

“It was probably the first time ever I was down like that. I had no intention of getting up. I couldn’t get up.”

Now, with Opening Day less than two weeks away and another masterpiece waiting to be painted, good luck keeping him down.

Not only is Trout the majors’ best player, in just three full seasons he has ascended into that rarified ambassadorial role reserved for the Jeters and Cal Ripken Juniors and Ernie Banks of the world. Just as you want him at the plate with runners aboard and the game on the line, there are few others this side of Pittsburgh‘s Andrew McCutchen you would rather have pedaling the MLB brand, too.

“He’s 23 years old, and he’s a global brand,” says Eric Kay, the Angels’ longtime director of communications. “And yet, do you know who’s down the line signing autographs every single day? Mike Trout.”

Kay and his boss, Tim Mead, are pivotal gatekeepers, helping Trout manage the crushing demand for his time while making sure he’s rested and ready when 7:05 p.m. rolls around each night.

Already this spring, Trout has shot spots for, among others, Body Armor, Major League Baseball, MLB Network, Nike and Zepp, a company that specializes in analyzing swings in 3-D.

Trout breezes through it all as if he has been groomed for this moment his entire life. Which, in a way, he has.

His parents, Jeff and Debbie, clearly established a model foundation. Veteran Torii Hunter mentored Trout from the day he debuted in the majors at 19 in 2011 until Hunter signed with the Tigers in November 2012. Since then, Trout has grown especially close with teammate Albert Pujols, 35, who knows a few secrets about keeping both eyes on the ball when the world wants several pounds of superstar flesh.

“I have fun with all the stuff,” Trout says during a wide-ranging conversation with Bleacher Report. “If you go in there with a negative, bad attitude, like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to do a photo shoot today, or an interview,’ it’ll just make it longer and even worse.

“Every appearance I do, I try to have fun. It’s good for me, it’s good for the fans, and that’s all that matters.”

His smile comes easy and often. His zest for everything from belting a fastball to making a kid’s day with a selfie at the ballpark is genuine. Growing up in Millville, N.J., he idolized Jeter, and to this day, he sometimes will ask the Angels’ public relations specialists how they think Jeter would handle a particular situation.

Watching Trout and Jeter together at the All-Star Game in Minneapolis last July, in fact, it was difficult not to sense an unofficial passing of the torch.

“I don’t think people have to necessarily appoint someone to a particular position,” Jeter said then. “You know, if he continues to do the things that he’s done, he has his head on right, he plays the game the right way, he plays hard. The challenge for him is going to be like the challenge for most people, to be consistent year-in and year-out.

“But Mike’s going to be in a lot of All-Star Games. He already has the respect from players around the league.”

Says Trout: “For me, personally, being in same All-Star Game, his last one, him being my role model growing up, it was definitely special. Just to be able to talk to him, to have the locker next to him, to eat lunch with him, just being around him.

“It’s incredible what he [went] through, being in New York with media. You saw the cameras following him, the way he handle[d] himself on and off the field, always in the right spot, never in trouble.

“He’s definitely a person to plan your game around.”

In no small way, as seasons pass and generations change, Trout is the latest link in a lineage that traces back through time. In fact, the late Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, of all people, is indirectly responsible for helping shape him as well. It was Puckett who taught Hunter to find the joy while fulfilling professional responsibilities and obligations each day.

“I remember my first year, I probably talked Torii Hunter’s ear off,” Trout says. “It was all in a good way. When you have a great teammate like that, it’s something special for the young guys.”

Hunter went out of his way to teach Trout, the veteran told the kid, because of, among other things, the lessons he learned from Puckett.

“He always brought that up,” Trout says. “Just having Torii, such an outgoing person. When you were going bad[ly], he would always bring you up. That’s the biggest thing. When you made a mistake, he was always there to pick you up.

“He could feel you out. When he knew you were struggling or down, he could bring out the best in you. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without a smile. I think that’s the biggest thing. Some people get down on themselves, but he’s always smiling. I was just very fortunate when I came up to have guys like that take me under their wing.”

Pujols, too. When the All-Star Game was in St. Louis in 2009, Pujols was still with the Cardinals, and he may as well have been the mayor of St. Louis for the week. He set an unofficial record for most promotional commitments in a 72-hour period. It’s a wonder he didn’t need to hibernate like a bear in the winter during that season’s second half.

“He definitely handles it well,” Trout says. “He’s told me some stuff, like, ‘You’re still out here playing a game, you have a job to do, that’s the first thing you’ve got to do. And all of the other stuff comes after that. You can find time for it. Spread it out.'”

So that’s what Trout has tried to do. Spread it out. Don’t overschedule endorsement commitments, commercial shoots, personal appearances and interviews. He shuts most of it down during the winter and schedules most of those things during spring training—sprinkled over time.

“Sometimes if you keep doing it over and over, you get tired,” Trout says. “It beats you up. It’s a long season, and you get to September and you’re exhausted.

“It doesn’t do anybody any good.”

Ask Pujols if he sees his younger self in Trout, and the first baseman quickly says no.

“He has better talent and better skills,” Pujols says. “He’s a better player.”

As for the advice he offers Trout in handling the burgeoning responsibilities of superstardom—advice both solicited and unsolicited—Pujols offers a nod to those who came before him. Much like Hunter, with Puckett. Pujols unspools a long list of those who helped him when he was younger, name-checking Mark McGwire, Mike Matheny, Placido Polanco, Reggie Sanders and the late Darryl Kile.

“My compadre, Polanco, took me under his wing when I wasn’t even on the roster yet,” Pujols says of his first spring training with St. Louis, in 2001. “My wife was pregnant at the time, and he opened his door to me. We lived with him for the first part of that spring training.

“You don’t just learn things. It takes a lot of guys who care about you. Trouty is a great kid. I treat him like my little brother.”

Which is interesting, because during our discussion a little earlier in the morning, Trout said that Pujols is “like a big brother” in looking out for him and helping him thrive both on and off the field as his career has launched toward the stratosphere.

Be in the right spot at the right time, Pujols tells Trout. Don’t get yourself in trouble. Take every at-bat like it’s your last at-bat.

“I’ve really gotten close with him,” Trout says. “He hooks me up with everything. Anything I need, he’s got a hook-up for. Shoes. A golf course—’I’ve got a guy over here.’ Dinner—’Have you been to that restaurant? No? I’ll get you hooked up.’

“It’s something special to have a guy like that in the clubhouse. Especially for young guys. In the blink of an eye, I think about it, four years ago he was sitting over there in the corner of the clubhouse, and I’m, like, ‘Oh, should I go up to him? Should I do this?’ But it’s pretty cool.”

On the field, Trout this summer wants to reduce his strikeouts, which crept up to uncomfortable (for him) levels last summer. He led the league with a career-high 184, up dramatically from his 136 in 2013. But he also led the league in runs (115), RBI (111) and total bases (338).

Though Trout’s strikeout rate tripled when he swung at pitches in the upper third of the strike zone as opposed to the bottom third, according to data from Baseball Prospectus, the adjustments he’s making this spring do not simply involve attempting to lay off of the high strike.

“I’ve been trying to attack the first pitch more,” he says. “I’m not just going up there taking the first pitch as in the past. If you’re laying a cookie down the middle, I’m going to hit it now. I’m comfortable hitting with two strikes. The last couple games in the spring, when I get myself loaded on that first pitch, it gets me locked in later in the at-bat.

“It’s been working. I’m just playing with it. I’m going to definitely try and take it into the regular season.”

One myth from last season is that Trout started chasing too many high pitches. It wasn’t exactly like he was getting himself out by swinging at balls: According to data from FanGraphs’ leaderboards, Trout’s swing rate of 24.5 percent on pitches outside the strike zone ranked 133rd in the majors. In other words, there were 132 players who swung at more pitches outside of the strike zone than did Trout.

“There are spots in games you need to take a first pitch,” he says. “If a guy can’t throw a strike, obviously, you want to be selective. But if I get the pitch I want, I’m going to swing at it.”

He also would like to run more this summer if possible. His 16 steals last year were significantly down from his AL-leading 49 in 2012 but, here again, credit goes to opposing pitchers and scouting reports designed to anchor him to the bag as much as possible. He’ll look for his spots, he says, but if opposing pitchers are 1.1, 1.2 seconds to the plate, it is humanly impossible to beat many throws to second.

Meanwhile, he continues to work diligently this spring, as he did last year, on improving his throwing arm. Of his five tools, arm strength and accuracy has been Trout’s weakest. Now? Angels bench coach Dino Ebel says that through sheer determination and hard work, Trout’s arm has gone from average last spring to above average now.

“He takes pride in that,” Ebel says. “He has a chip on his shoulder.”

It is a chip that keeps him both grounded and moving in the right direction.

“He is a very unique individual,” says Angels third baseman David Freese, who broke into the majors in St. Louis during Pujols’ glory years. “The way he can play the game the way he does, the way he interacts with fans, how genuine his smile is.

“There is nobody like him right now. I see the way he is when nobody’s looking. People see him on camera, fans. But even with the cameras off, he’s the same guy.”

Says Pujols: “He’s a really humble kid who doesn’t let success bother him. That’s the main thing. You can’t allow the game to change who you are.

“At the end of the day, we’re all going to walk out of this game, and how are we going to be remembered? As a great player who didn’t care about his teammates? Or as a guy who was a great player and a great teammate? Because in 10 or 20 years, there’s going to be another Mike Trout. There’s going to be another Albert Pujols.”

For now, though, with the curtain about to raise on 2015 and autographs waiting to be signed, there is only one Mike Trout. And now that he’s back up off of the couch, there’s one thing that is as close to a guarantee as there is in this game: The only thing sick about Trout this summer will be his numbers.

“It’s always a good feeling winning MVP,” says the man most in the industry predict will win several more before he’s finished. “When you go out, it’s definitely a lot different. People notice you.

“For me, it’s just about keeping my head on straight and staying humble. Since I was a kid, that’s what I was taught. I’ve got great family members and great teammates who help me do that.”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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