MINNEAPOLIS — Being baseball's next big thing comes with a number of perks. In Mike Trout's case, he got to pick between a Corvette and a truck as his prize for winning MVP honors in Tuesday's All-Star Game. Having bought his dad a truck just two weeks before, the 22-year-old Trout went with the flashier wheels.
BOX SCORE: AL 5, NL 3
Getting thrust the mantle of Derek Jeter's successor as the face of the game also comes with a huge burden, one the New York Yankees icon has been carrying with supreme class for the better part of his two-decade-long career.
It may be too early to know whether Trout has the mettle to handle such responsibility, although the early signs are encouraging. What has been clear for some time is Trout has the ability to impact the game in a variety of ways.
On Tuesday it was mostly with his bat, as Trout drove in two runs with extra-base hits to help power the American League to a 5-3 victory over the National League. Trout sent Jeter in from second with a triple as part of the AL's three-run rally off Adam Wainwright in a first inning capped by Miguel Cabrera's two-run homer.
Then, after the NL had tied the game in the fourth, Trout put his team back ahead with an RBI double in a two-run fifth, helping Jeter go out victorious in his final All-Star Game.
"I definitely think he's one of the best in the game, and that's probably going to come with the territory,'' Oakland Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson said of the increasing talk about Trout being Jeter's heir apparent. "When you do the kind of things that he does and Jeter does, the bar is definitely set higher for you.''
As with many players of his generation, Trout has often expressed his admiration for Jeter, whom he tried to emulate as a teenage shortstop in Millville, N.J., before switching to center field his senior year in high school.
"Growing up I was setting goals for myself that if I ever get the chance to play in the big leagues, that's how I want to play,'' Trout said. "And the way he carries himself on and off the field, how he respects the game, always hustling, it doesn't matter what the score is. If they are down 10 runs, he is always running the ball out. That's how I want to play.''
The AL collected its second All-Star Game win in a row – and the accompanying home-field advantage in the World Series – after dropping the previous three. That may come into play for Trout this year with his Los Angeles Angels surging into contention by winning 19 of their last 23 games before the break.
Trout, who turns 23 on Aug. 7, became just the fourth AL outfielder to get invited to three All-Star Games before reaching that age. Two of the other three are Hall of Famers – Mickey Mantle and Al Kaline – and the third one, Ken Griffey Jr., will be when he becomes eligible.
Trout's qualifications to take the torch from Jeter go way past his All-Star Game exploits, which now include three extra-base hits and a .571 batting average (4-for-7). He's generally acknowledged as the best player in baseball even by those who think of WAR as a military maneuver, not a gauge of a player's value.
The sabermetric crowd began making the case for Trout as far back as his rookie season of 2012, when his Wins Above Replacement figure of 10.9 was considerably higher than Cabrera's 7.3. Cabrera, coming off the majors' first Triple Crown since 1967, beat out Trout for the AL MVP award that season and the next one,
This year may prove a different story. Not only is Trout leading the league in on-base plus slugging percentage and WAR, but the Angels have the second-best record in baseball after back-to-back third-place finishes that surely cost him MVP votes.
Just as significantly for Trout's case as the face of the game, he has maintained his clean-cut All-American image amid intense scrutiny playing in the nation's second-largest media market in the Twitter and Facebook age.
Still, Jeter suggested that Trout be allowed to be his own person.
"I think let Mike be Mike,'' Jeter said. "I don't think people have to necessarily appoint someone to a particular position. 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, year out.''
Trout has increased his OPS from .963 as a rookie to .988 last season to his current 1.005. His 22 homers and 73 RBI put him on pace for career highs in both categories, and he's batting .310.
None of which puts him above getting some ribbing from Jeter.
"He said he wanted me to play nine innings,'' Trout told news reporters, drawing laughs. "He said I'm 22 years old coming out of the game, it is the sixth inning, I should be playing nine. He's messing around with me. It's all fun. It's special for me.''
Part of what has set Jeter apart as a superstar has been his willingness to reach to out to young players, mostly of them likely awed by his presence, and make them feel comfortable around him.
The last couple of days, Jeter has been chatting with A's catcher Derek Norris, a first-time All-Star in his third season, about his bushy beard.
"He said he's so looking forward to being done playing so he can finally grow a beard. He said, 'I haven't been able to grow a beard in 20 years,''' Norris said, half delighted, half mystified. "It was just a pleasure to be able to spend that time and talk with him.''
A decade from now, young players may be saying the same thing about Trout.
GALLERY: ALL-STAR GAME