When Magic Johnson was still playing for the Lakers, and the Lakers would make their one trip to New York City and to Madison Square Garden to play the Knicks, he always described it the same way.
"My one night a year on Broadway," Magic said.
It isn't exactly like that for Mike Trout, the best baseball player in this world. He gets one series a year when the Angels come into Yankee Stadium, a series they will play next month. But now, because of Interleague Play, Trout gets another trip to New York this weekend, when the Angels play the Mets. It is a very big deal, because of Trout's big talent for baseball. The city receives a most honored baseball guest.
This isn't an occasion because of the way the Angels are playing, a game over .500. It certainly isn't an occasion because of the way the Mets -- who have been in a freefall over the past week, getting swept on the road by the Brewers and the D-backs -- are playing, in the same kind of hole the San Francisco Giants currently find themselves. No. It is an occasion because of a Jersey kid named Mike Trout, who comes to the East Coast and gets to show everybody that he does things on a baseball field that Mickey Mantle did when he was the age that Trout is now, which means 25.
Oh, sure. Through the first 848 games of Trout's career, his lifetime average is .307, his slugging percentage is .565, he has hit 181 home runs, has 527 RBIs, has scored 628 runs, has 962 hits and 151 stolen bases. And Trout has won a Rookie of the Year Award and won the AL MVP Award twice. Through the same number of games in Mantle's career, Mickey had a .310 average, a .563 slugging percentage, 183 home runs, 599 RBIs, scored 674 runs, had 953 hits, 46 stolen bases and had won an AL MVP Award.
"It's incredible what he's done," said Yankees general manager, Brian Cashman. "It's incredible what he's doing. He's an historic type player, is what he is."
Now this doesn't mean that Trout, whose biggest one-season home run total so far is 41, will ever hit 54 home runs in a season the way Mantle did, or that he will win a Triple Crown someday. But he is still a young Mantle. He is Mantle without the stage that Mantle had in the 1950s in New York, without the spotlight, without Yankee Stadium, without the World Series, without the glamour of New York City baseball in the '50s, when the Giants were still at the Polo Grounds and the Dodgers were still at Ebbets Field.
Trout has Southern California, of course. But he does not have L.A. and does not play for the Dodgers. Sometimes, he must feel a little bit like he is playing for the Brooklyn Nets.
This also doesn't mean that it will always be this way for Trout in Anaheim, despite what has happened to the Angels lately. They still have won a World Series (2002) more recently than the Dodgers (1988) have. But for all of his Mantle numbers, for all of his speed and strength, the way he can be a streak of light on the bases or in the outfield, Trout has made it to baseball's postseason once in his career, and that was three years ago. Sometimes you feel that everything he is doing is permanently happening out of town.
We will continue to speculate about what Bryce Harper will someday make as a free agent. Harper has come back from a 2016 season far below his own standards and is once again scaring the daylights out of opposing pitchers and opposing managers. Harper has the chance to be a leading-man star of his sport for a long time. He is a thrilling talent. Just not as complete a baseball player as Trout is. Very few players in history, at his age, ever have been. Truly, Trout influences baseball games in as many different and positive ways as LeBron does in basketball. But baseball isn't basketball. LeBron would make any team in his sport a playoff team just by walking into the gym. Trout can't do that.
At least Trout gets another shot at New York this weekend, whatever kinds of crowds he gets at Citi Field. He gets three extra games in the city that belonged to Mantle his whole career, and belonged to Willie Mays when he was young, and to Jackie Roosevelt Robinson, who could change games with his talent and speed and brio, even if he didn't get the stage until he was two years older than Trout is now.
Angels fans know about Trout. The analytics people properly lose their minds over Trout when they look at what he does and how he does it, right through that three-run shot he hit against the White Sox on Wednesday night. Trout signed a six-year contract extension with the Angels three years ago, one that takes him through 2020. But if the Angels don't get a lot better, and soon, you wonder when the guy might start looking for the door.
Trout has been bothered this season by a hamstring injury, and so far has played 37 of his team's 43 games. He still has 13 home runs and 30 RBIs and is hitting .341 and has a slugging percentage of .742 and go ahead and do the home run math on him if he stays healthy the rest of the way. The only reason he was as fast getting out of the clubhouse after the Angels beat the White Sox Wednesday night, after he'd hit his fifth home run in six games, was because he was rushing to get a red-eye flight back East, so he could spend an extra day with his family in Jersey.
The amazing thing about Trout, if he is blessed by the baseball gods with good health, if injury doesn't do to him what it did to Mantle's knees, is he will still be just 29 years old when his current contract ends. Somehow, when this season ends, he will have already played six full seasons in the big leagues. But it is fair to assume, especially the way the Astros are playing, that the best the Angels can hope for is to make a run at one of two Wild Card spots in the American League.
Certainly there is so much baseball to be played. So much can happen across the last three-quarters of the season, with the Astros and everybody else. For now, manager Mike Scioscia continues to have a front-row seat to the kid's genius or magic, none of which are ever lost on him. He never takes the kid for granted. You worry sometimes that everybody else does.
"It looks like he's doing things easier," Scioscia said the other day.
Then Trout hit another one against the White Sox before heading for the airport and heading East. At least the kid gets to play close to home this weekend. At least the new Mantle gets an extra weekend in New York this season.