Mike Trout: Someone worth watching

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Mike Trout: Someone worth watching

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.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Ramirez, Leon homer, Red Sox beat Angels 9-4 on Papi's night

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Ramirez, Leon homer, Red Sox beat Angels 9-4 on Papi's night

BOSTON - Hanley Ramirez and Sandy Leon hit two-run homers and the Boston Red Sox beat the Los Angeles Angels 9-4 on Friday to cap a night in which David Ortiz's number became the latest retired at Fenway Park.

It was the 250th career home run for Ramirez, a good friend of Ortiz who was also born in the Dominican Republic. Leon finished with three hits and four RBIs.

The homers helped provide a nice cushion for Rick Porcello (4-9), who gave up four runs and struck out eight in 6 1/3 innings to earn the victory. It was the 13th straight start Porcello has gone at least six innings.

Alex Meyer (3-4) allowed five runs and five hits in 3 1/3 innings.

Los Angeles scored three runs in the seventh, but cooled off after Porcello left.

Boston got out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, scoring on an RBI double by Xander Bogaerts and then getting two more runs off wild pitches by Meyer.

Ramirez gave Porcello a 5-1 lead in the fourth with his two-run shot to right field.

This could serve as a needed confidence boost for Porcello, who had been 0-4 with a 7.92 ERA in his previous five starts, allowing 47 hits and 27 earned runs.

He had command of his pitches early, holding the Angels scoreless until the fourth, when a catching error by Leon at home allowed Albert Pujols to cross the plate.

Ortiz: 'A super honor' to have number retired by Red Sox

Ortiz: 'A super honor' to have number retired by Red Sox

BOSTON —  The Red Sox have become well known for their ceremonies, for their pull-out-all-the-stops approach to pomp. The retirement of David Ortiz’s No. 34 on Friday evening was in one way, then, typical.

A red banner covered up Ortiz’s No. 34 in right field, on the facade of the grandstand, until it was dropped down as Ortiz, his family, Red Sox ownership and others who have been immortalized in Fenway lore looked on. Carl Yazstremski and Jim Rice, Wade Boggs and Pedro Martinez. 

The half-hour long tribute further guaranteed permanence to a baseball icon whose permanence in the city and the sport was never in doubt. But the moments that made Friday actually feel special, rather than expected, were stripped down and quick. 

Dustin Pedroia’s not one to belabor many points, never been the most effusive guy around. (He’d probably do well on a newspaper deadline.) The second baseman spoke right before Ortiz took to the podium behind the mound.

“We want to thank you for not the clutch hits, the 500 home runs, we want to thank you for how you made us feel and it’s love,” Pedroia said, with No. 34 painted into both on-deck circles and cut into the grass in center field. “And you’re not our teammate, you’re not our friend, you’re our family. … Thank you, we love you.”

Those words were enough for Ortiz to have tears in his eyes.

“Little guy made me cry,” Ortiz said, wiping his hands across his face. “I feel so grateful. I thank God every day for giving me the opportunity to have the career that I have. But I thank God even more for giving me the family and what I came from, who teach me how to try to do everything the right way. Nothing — not money — nothing is better than socializing with the people that are around you, get familiar with, show them love, every single day. It’s honor to get to see my number …. I remember hitting batting practice on this field, I always was trying to hit those numbers.”

Now that’s a poignant image for a left-handed slugger at Fenway Park.

He did it once, he said — hit the numbers. He wasn’t sure when. Somewhere in 2011-13, he estimated — but he said he hit Bobby Doerr’s No. 1.

“It was a good day to hit during batting practice,” Ortiz remembered afterward in a press conference. “But to be honest with you, I never thought I’d have a chance to hit the ball out there. It’s pretty far. My comment based on those numbers was, like, I started just getting behind the history of this organization. Those guys, those numbers have a lot of good baseball in them. It takes special people to do special things and at the end of the day have their number retired up there, so that happening to me today, it’s a super honor to be up there, hanging with those guys.”

The day was all about his number, ultimately, and his number took inspiration from the late Kirby Puckett. Ortiz’s major league career began with the Twins in 1997. Puckett passed away in 2006, but the Red Sox brought his children to Fenway Park. They did not speak at the podium or throw a ceremonial first pitch, but their presence likely meant more than, say, Jason Varitek’s or Tim Wakefield’s.

“Oh man, that was very emotional,” Ortiz said. “I’m not going to lie to you, like, when I saw them coming toward me, I thought about Kirby. A lot. That was my man, you know. It was super nice to see his kids. Because I remember, when they were little guys, little kids. Once I got to join the Minnesota Twins, Kirby was already working in the front office. So they were, they used to come in and out. I used to get to see them. But their dad was a very special person for me and that’s why you saw me carry the No. 34 when I got here. It was very special to get to see them, to get kind of connected with Kirby somehow someway.”

Ortiz’s place in the row of 11 retired numbers comes in between Boggs’ No. 26 and Jackie Robinson’s No. 42.