Thanks to young phenoms, hustle is back in baseball

There’s a Charlie Hustle revival going on in the major leagues.

Last weekend, we saw 19-year-old Bryce Harper visit Camden Yards and the very next series, we see 20-year-old Mike Trout. About a month ago, the Orioles visited Toronto, where they got a glimpse of 22-year-old Brett Lawrie. Throw in Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer and there’s suddenly a crop of young, exciting players infiltrating the big leagues.

I’ve sat down with Trout, Harper, and Lawrie. Their maturity stood out. More importantly, their love for playing the game hard is what left me impressed.

Before my interviews, I read all the scouting reports. They were all quite similar. Most were said to play the game at a Pete Rose, fever-pace. After watching the young bucks in action, there’s no question: they’re all-out, and it’s so refreshing to see.

This next wave of talent is so fun to watch and O’s manager Buck Showalter told reporters debates often take placed in the clubhouse about who you’d rather take on your team. It’s hard to decide.

This week with the Angels in town, we get a closer look at Trout, the leadoff man Dodgers manager Don Mattingly compared to his former teammate, Rickey Henderson. Mattingly said Trout, who leads the American League in stolen bases, has the “same unworldly talent” as his former teammate and all-time stolen base leader.

Those are big shoes to fill. After watching Trout score from second on a Torii Hunter single in the third inning of Tuesday’s game, I don’t doubt the comparison. He was blazing. Trout told me he isn’t afraid of being thrown out. He’s learned from Henderson. Trout said he looked up some stats and even though Henderson had 130 stolen bases in 1982, he was thrown out 42 times. According to Trout, you have to take the risk.

trout sliding sidebar.jpgIt’s up to the Orioles’ pitchers to have very quick times to the plate against the Angels. It’s a facet of the game Showalter has pounded home since spring training and his staff has improved. Matt Wieters told me you hope Trout doesn’t get on base, but when he does, pitchers have to get that ball to him quick so he has a fighting chance of throwing him out. Trout told me if Angels first base coach Alfredo Griffin tells him an O’s pitcher is 1.4 seconds or higher to the plate, he’s definitely taking off.

As for Harper, ask O’s center fielder Adam Jones if the teenager hustles. On a ball to center during last weekend’s Battle of the Beltways, Jones fielded it, but Harper kept going and stretched the single into a double. Jones wasn’t expecting it. Neither was anyone else. Harper is as heads-up as it gets.

As exciting as it is to see the young talents value hustle, it’s surprising. Think about it. Players that are in their early 30s saw Rose and Henderson play. They had that generation of ballplayers to look up to. Players in their teens and early 20s grew up idolizing players like Derek Jeter, who plays hard but he isn’t that demon on the basepaths type of guy. There really isn’t a player in the late ’90s or early 2000s that defined hustle the way Rose and Henderson did in the ’80s.

Whatever the reason or influence, these young players are inspiring, fun and give me hope that in the era of free agency and big contracts, there is a future generation of superstars who will propel the game forward by throwing back.