There was a time not so long ago when going to a Celtics game, or even watching the Celtics on TV, had nothing to do with the guys in green. This was back in the mid-90s (OK, maybe that is so long ago), in the days of Todd Day, Marty Conlon and Blue Edwards. When Boston was suddenly the most snake-bitten and depressing franchise in the NBA and M.L. Carr ruled over it all with a barely-formed fist.
As each new season began, there was very little to get excited about, especially for 14-16 year old kid like myself. We werent sitting around the lunch table swapping stories about Eric Montross "jump" hook or Brett Szabos rec-specs. Instead, each day and night of the NBA season revolved around whom the Celtics were playing; around the players we actually liked and looked up to. Players who inspired us. Who we were dying to watch on TV or, if we were lucky enough, actually see in person.
Of course, there was MJ and the Bulls. But more than the established stars, I remember being mesmerized by the younger generation. The next superstars. There was Shaq, Penny and the Magic, Jason Kidd and the Mavs, Shawn Kemp and the Sonics, Chris Webber and the Bullets and you know what? Ill stop now because this isnt about the NBA or even basketball in general.
Its about Mike Trout, and a reason to be excited about the Red Sox.
By now, youve heard about Trout, the 21-year-old Angels center fielder who's taken baseball by storm, and will finally! make his Fenway Park debut tonight against Aaron Cook and the Sox.
If you're somehow unfamiliar with the Trout phenomenon, here's a very quick refresher:
Despite not being called up to the big leagues until April 28, Trouts currently the Major League-leader in runs (96) and stolen bases (39). Hes second in slugging percentage by one-hundredth of a percentage point and in OPS by .11. He's also running away with the AL batting title (.343).
For good measure, Trout has 24 homers, 70 RBI, owns two of the top five web gems of the 2012 season.
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Trouts not only having one of the greatest rookie years in Major League history, but as Jonah Keri recently argued on Grantland, he might be delivering one of the greatest years, period. Now seems like a good time to remind everyone that Trout's a full three years younger than Will Middlebrooks.
My first run-in with Mike Trout came in May of 2011. At the time, my fantasy team was already in the basement and a series of ridiculous injuries had rendered a comeback impossible. It was time to look to the future, and from everything I read, the future of baseball had only two faces: Bryce Harper and Trout.
I already knew about Harper, who'd been in the spotlight since hitting a 400-foot home run as a 6-foot, 200-pound three-year-old, but there was something about Trout that really caught my eye. Actually, more than something, it was this thing.
"Mike Trout has been compared to a young Mickey Mantle."
Now obviously, comparing a 19-year-old in AA to Mantle doesn't guarantee greatness. (I still remember flipping through program at the 1999 Futures Game at Fenway and reading about how Rick Ankiel was the next Sandy Koufax.) But the more I read about Trout, the more I bought in, and within 25 minutes, Bryce Harper wasn't even a consideration.
I picked up Trout, stashed him on the bench, and crossed my fingers for the future.
Fast-forward to today, and that last place team is now comfortably in first, thanks in large part to the undisputed best fantasy player in the game. A 21-year-old kid who's one Miguel Cabrera slump away from becoming the youngest MVP in American League history. A rookie who's changing the game every time he takes the field; who came into the league with the most unfair expectations you can imagine, yet has exceeded them at every turn.
A player who baseball fans can get behind and excited about regardless of who he plays for.
And let's be honest. That's just what we need around here.
Sure, things with the Sox might not be quite as desperate as they were with those ML Carr teams of the mid-90s, but Trout's arrival at Fenway provides a similar sense of relief to those nights of watching a young Jason Kidd run the break, Shawn Kemp fly through the air and Chris Webber dunk on every one in sight. A reminder, during the dark days, that following sports should be fun and exciting. Mesmerizing and inspirational.
Then again, with the way this season's gone for Sox fans, Trout will probably pull a hamstring in batting practice.