In Which I Fawn All Over Mike Trout

By Bob Hiller

As if I needed another reason to love Mike Trout, MLB’s commissioner has inadvertently offered me one. For those of you who don’t follow America’s pastime, Trout is arguably the best player in baseball. For what its worth, if you engage in arguing against that point, you’ll lose. If you’re a pitcher, he is a constant threat. Seven years in, he’s a career .300 hitter, batting .310 this year with 25 home runs and 50 RBIs (those are good numbers for the halfway point in a season, in case you’re wondering). I’m sure his weird analytical stats are money too. His arm is insane, and he is one of the top outfielders in the game. I think I can make a fairly good case that Trout’s swing is an aesthetic argument for the existence of God. He’s great with the fans, and somehow, for all he has going for him, he seems to stay out of the spotlight. At least, that weird spotlight we like to shine on our idols while looking for their warts.

Anyhow, this past week, Major League Baseball’s commissioner Rob Manfred was talking about Trout’s unwillingness to market himself. Manfred believes Trout would be a bigger star if he would spend time putting his brand out there. ESPN quotes Manfred, “Player marketing requires one thing for sure — the player. You cannot market a player passively. You can’t market anything passively. You need people to engage with those to whom you are trying to market in order to have effective marketing. We are very interested in having our players more engaged and having higher-profile players and helping our players develop their individual brand. But that involves the player being actively engaged.”

Manfred goes on to say that Trout has the right to stay out of the spotlight and do what he wants in his free time. But MLB would love it if he sought to expand his “brand.” They are more than willing to help “make his brand really, really big.”

Trout is having none of it. “Yeah … no…I keep telling you guys, I do as much as I can. But it’s a long baseball season. I got to pick and choose when I want to do things and go from there.” In other words, Trout’s here to do his job on the field. He just wants to play baseball well. He’s not full of selfish ambition like everyone else in this self-serving world. To put it in some good ol’ Lutheran terms: Trout is focused on carrying out his vocation.

The Angels organization is all about this. “One of Mike’s traits that people admire most is his humility. His brand is built upon generously spending his time engaging with fans, both at home and on the road, while remaining a remarkable baseball player and teammate. In addition, Mike spends quality time as a husband, son, brother, uncle and friend. We applaud him for prioritizing his personal values over commercial self-promotion. That is rare in today’s society and stands out as much as his extraordinary talent.”

Rare indeed! In “prioritizing his personal values,” it is fascinating and refreshing to see Trout placing his personal brand low on the list. He wants to work hard, go home, and spend time with his family. He’s not interested in self-promotion and achieving celebrity status. He’s interested in hitting the life out of the ball. He’s interested in being present with bride. He’s interested in what matters most.

Yeah, I’m sure Trout isn’t all this glorious and perfect. I’m sure he’s not the vocational hero I’m making him out to be. But isn’t it a breath of fresh air to see a guy in major sport who is more concerned with his responsibilities on the field and at home than he is with his commercial deals? I mean, if we are searching for a humble work ethic in professional sports, Trout is a treasure of a find.

At least in this instance, he is demonstrating what our vocations are really about. For Trout, baseball is not a means to an end. It is the game itself, and doing the best job he can in that game, that matters. So, he commits himself to his work. Then, he finishes up the job, leaves it on the field, and heads home to his other vocations of “husband, son, brother, and friend.” He is present where he needs to be. His head is not on the money. It’s on the work, the responsibility for its own sake.

The ‘90s Canadian band The Crash Test Dummies (yes, I am referencing CTD) have this wonderful song, “Superman’s Song.” In that hauntingly deep, baritone, Brad Roberts sings:

Hey Bob, Supe had a straight job
Even though he coulda smashed through
Any bank in the United States
He had the strength but he would not…
Superman never made any money
Saving the world from Solomon Grundy
And sometimes I despair
The world will never see another man like him.

Trout could have any endorsement he wanted. He could sell any shoe or soda on the planet. He could spend his free time in front of a camera at commercial shoots, raking in all kinds of cash. He has the strength, but he would not. Why? Because he has his priorities straight. He’s one of the rare men in this world who gets it. And yeah, I do despair the world is not going to see men like this much anymore. Men who love their work for its own sake and sacrifice accolades for family.

Good heavens. We internet savvy pastors could learn something from this guy (I say in the mirror).