With the arrival of the Los Angeles Angels in D.C. comes the much anticipated matchup between 22-year-old Mike Trout and 21-year-old Bryce Harper.
Trout was the 25th overall selection in 2009, while Harper arrived as the first overall pick in 2010.
They have been linked because they are both considered power-hitting phenoms and are the faces of the next batch of young superstars to play in the majors.
But Harper was not going to buy into the hype prior to Monday’s first game of a three-game interleague series between his Nationals and Trout’s Angels.
“It is two teams going at it, not just two guys,” Harper said. “There are nine guys on the field trying to win ball games. I know everybody is pretty excited about it. But it is just another team we are playing.
“It just two teams going at it; it is not just me and Trout.”
Trout said this series is a special moment for baseball and he is excited about playing against Harper.
“To be a part of it, playing in the same game, same stadium, same city, it is pretty cool,” Trout said. “It is good for the fans.”
Trout had a chance to greet Harper during early batting practice Monday afternoon.
“Yeah, first time I saw him in awhile,” Trout said. “Pretty cool seeing him, haven’t seen him in awhile. Just talking some stuff, talking baseball, I guess.”
Harper and Trout keep in touch with texts, etc. as the season goes on. Trout even joked with Harper when Harper had a third-deck homer at Nationals Park.
“I shot him a text, just messing around with him, you know like, ‘A couple of the guys in the clubhouse were wondering if you got jammed on that ball you hit down the line, because it went into the third deck.’ Just small talk, nothing too crazy,” Trout laughed.
The power-hitting tandem got to know each other early in their careers while playing in the Arizona Fall League.
“We played the fall league together,” Harper said. “Great player, great person, great family. He is one of the best players if not the best player in baseball. He is a lot of fun to watch.”
“He can roll,” Harper said of Trout’s play. “He knows how to run the bases really well. It is exciting. Everything he does on that field is a lot of fun to watch. I think a lot of people know that. He is a great player.”
Trout knows that when they played in Arizona and they were both starting at about the same time and at the same age, people would compare them and their games.
“I kind of figured it, ever since the fall league, ever since (we were) young guys getting drafted,” Trout said. “Around same age, same hype, you are always going to get compared. It is pretty cool getting compared to not just Harper and stuff, but the Hall of Fame guys, (Mickey) Mantle, growing up watching them play. Guys I haven’t seen play because I was born in 1991.”
Trout also believes that it is an honor when others mention his play when they talk about Harper’s play.
“I am just trying to have good years and it just happened to be at the end of my first two (years) we were 1-2 in MVP,” Trout said. “Just linked with him, it makes me feel good. He is a great player obviously. Just to be compared with him and the other guys, it makes you feel good.”
Harper said he doesn’t care if fans like Trout better than him, or vice versa.
“I could care less about opinions,” Harper said. “Everyone has got one. If they like him, they like him. If they like me, they like me. If they like both of us, then they know the game. If they don’t, then they are crazy.
“This game is a lot of fun to play. We are both human. We are both going to make mistakes. We are both going to make errors. That is part of the game. It is part of life. It is fun to go out there and play. People blow things out to bigger proportions because that is how this world is now. That is just how it is.”
Has Harper ever compared himself to Trout?
“Not at all,” Harper said. “Because I know I am a damn good player, and he is, too. We are going to roll through baseball for the next 20 years, hopefully, and make people turn their heads. He is going to do it and hopefully I can do it, and (Yasiel) Puig, everybody else in this game, Matt Harvey. There is a lot of great young talent. Just cause it is me and Trout. That is how it has been and that is how it is going to be.”
Trout said when he and Harper get together, it is not a one-on-one tennis match, but they do have similar goals.
“It is not like he is a pitcher, he is in the outfield,” Trout said. “So you can’t really compete against each other. We are both trying to get hits obviously. I think for my game, (if) I try to do too much, that is when I get into trouble. I am just here to try to win ball games, not trying to do (too) much.”
Trout said he talked to Harper about his benching this week and that Harper understands what he did and what he needs to do to correct it.
“He plays the game hard, max effort every time, besides the lack of hustle the other day,” Trout said. “It is the way they have it over there. For that rule, if you don’t obey the rules, you pay the price. I talked to him about it. He was comfortable with it and knew what he did wrong. We both try to have fun and win ball games.”