Trout stepping up as leader now more than ever

CLEVELAND — Mike Trout took in the question. Its essence seemed to gather in his heart, lay heavy in his bones. Maybe it reminded him of the week he’d just dragged along behind him, that they’d all dragged behind them. Everybody take a handful and pull. It reminded him that he could be tired. So, so tired.

“Energy’s OK,” he said, meaning his own. “Yeah, OK. Tough week.”

Just one Monday ago he’d begun to say goodbye to his friend, Tyler Skaggs. He’s not done yet. He might never be.

In the meantime, he’d endeavored to be the best player on the field for a week, which he was. Then he’d boarded a flight to another field, where he’d have to be the best player in the world, which he’d be as well.

He’d taken a breath following the inquiry about his energy, one of those inhales that promises a little more life, then exhaled whatever hoped to haul him back to one Monday ago, into that week that followed.

He could be tired. So, so tired.

Inside a year he’ll have buried his 24-year-old brother-in-law and his 27-year-old friend, and some days it must feel like life won’t let him up. It was on one of those days, perhaps, when Mike Trout understood it was his turn to step to the front. It was his time, terrible as it was, terrible as it would always be.

It's been a tough week for Mike Trout and the rest of the Los Angeles Angels. (Getty Images)

It's been a tough week for Mike Trout and the rest of the Los Angeles Angels. (Getty Images)

It’s been a tough week for Mike Trout and the rest of the Los Angeles Angels. (Getty Images)

He was at the microphone. He was sobbing for his friend, for his teammates, for a community that didn’t get it any more than he did. He was leading them back over the first inch or two, taking hold of their shoulders as his shook, lifting their chins when his was heavy, distinguishing fastballs from sliders through reddened eyes, leading them back into a game and a season meaningful on that day for its soaring insignificance.

He’ll be 28 later this summer. He’ll have played in something close to 1,200 games. He’ll not have asked to lead, or been asked, or insisted upon it. Instead, he’ll have followed well enough and for long enough to be qualified to lead, not because of what he shouts but for what he does. Not because he is so tough, but because he is almost too sad not to be.

Because of who he has grown up to be.

“He’s our leader,” Tommy La Stella said Monday. “He’s been around the game for such a long time and from such a young age. We lean on Mike for so many things.”

These titles are earned in bad times. Or what may look and feel like bad times. Losing streaks, hollow clubhouses, outsider encroachment, incompetent front offices, they send a dispirited group to the strongest among them, to the wisest, to the one it can count on. Imagine when the real bad times come.

And so he is expected to be strong for all of them on what might be a bothersome day for him too. Or, even, perhaps, on about the worst day of his life.

He arrived Monday with his hair mushed into a Mohawk and a couple days’ worth of a beard wandering about his face and neck.

He could have been tired. So, so tired.

In the week since that day, since he began his goodbyes, he’d hit .348 and hit six home runs and driven in 10. He’d taken six walks. And though for years it had been his habit to charge into the baseball and stand still for the rest, the parts Torii Hunter or Albert Pujols or Jered Weaver or some other veteran could be counted on for, the day came to him. This was his friend. These, too, are his friends.

And so Mike Trout drew a breath, convinced himself his energy was OK, and after all that growing up he’d done in the previous eight years, grew up a little more.

The death of Tyler Skaggs stunned the Angels and the baseball world earlier this month. (Getty Images)

The death of Tyler Skaggs stunned the Angels and the baseball world earlier this month. (Getty Images)

The death of Tyler Skaggs stunned the Angels and the baseball world earlier this month. (Getty Images)

“That saying, ‘You don’t realize what you have until you lose it,’ it’s spot on,” he said Monday afternoon. “You don’t know. You just don’t know. Then, for me, Justin [Upton], [Andrew] Heaney and Kole [Calhoun] to get up there and speak, that meant a lot to me. It meant a lot to Tyler. I felt a big responsibility.”

He’d lowered his head, ducked a little behind the bill of his cap, steadied himself behind a table and told the world what Tyler Skaggs was to him, to them all. His teammates stood behind him, their arms crossed and expressions liquified. Within a few days, when that world had moved on, having seen all it needed to see, what it left behind was Mike Trout and Justin Upton and Andrew Heaney and Kole Calhoun and the rest of them, still unsure if what they were living was real. If any of it could be counted on.

And so the day that found Mike Trout – and he, it – becomes many days, one after the other. He’d just begun to lead, he’s not done yet. And might never be.

“I think the team needed it,” he said. “When the team is down and needs you the most, that’s the time. I learned from guys that paved the way. Now I’m feeling that responsibility.”

So, no, not tired. Energy’s good. He took another breath. It’s OK. He can do this.

Maybe a little tired.

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