ST. PETERSBURG — Fans attending the Tampa Bay Rays game Friday did not have to wait long for arguably the most exciting player in baseball to do something impressive.
With a runner on first base, the second batter of the game walked onto the field for the Los Angeles Angels. Large in stature (6 feet 2, 230 pounds), his presence prompted a constant, low rumble throughout the stands that was broken up by "whoops'' and whistles.
One strike. One ball. Then center fielder Mike Trout sent a baseball over the left-field wall for a two-run home run that sparked the Angels' 5-3 victory at Tropicana Field. The teams will conclude a three-game series at 1:40 p.m. Sunday, completing the Angels' only visit to St. Petersburg this year.
"Doing the things Mike is doing on the field, he's going to get a lot of attention," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Not only with Angels fans in Southern California but all around the country at every ballpark.
"Even opposing fans are understanding how talented he is. It seems like everywhere he goes, there's a little bit of a buzz."
Red jerseys with Trout's name across the back littered the stands. Baseballs in hand, children screamed, "Mr. Trout! Mr. Trout!" as they leaned over the walls near the visitors' dugout. One held a sign that read, "Trout, can you please sign my jersey?"
"It's fun to run out and see the little kids trying to get autographs," Trout said. "I try to sign everything, because I was there about 10 years ago. I was always excited to come to a big-league game and see some players."
MVP of last month's All-Star Game in Minneapolis, Trout's career trajectory likely would guarantee him a spot in the Hall of Fame one day. When his career statistics – .311 batting average with 521 hits, 87 homers and 274 RBIs — were compared to other players at age 22 by the Los Angeles Times, the most similar were names such as Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle and Ken Griffey Jr.
"Players aren't always going to be around, and it's lucky to be around watching him today," said Nick Carvalho, 11, of New Port Richey, who was in Angels gear from head to toe. "He's a great person, too. He never gets in trouble, kind of like a new Derek Jeter in a way."
Chad Ryland, 14, was vacationing in St. Petersburg and looked every bit an Angels fan, wearing a bright red jersey. Looks can deceive, though.
"I'm just a Mike Trout fan. I like the [Philadelphia] Phillies," said Ryland, who is from Pennsylvania. "My room is full of Phillies stuff, with some Mike Trout posters.
"It's pretty special to see a guy like him in his prime."
The impact that Trout, who will turn 23 on Thursday, has made at such a young age is pronounced. He was the American League rookie of the year in 2012 and runner-up to Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera for AL MVP the past two seasons.
Next season, he will begin a six-year, $144.5 million contract that will run through the 2020 season.
"He's handling [the spotlight] well," said Angels first baseman Albert Pujols, a nine-time all-star and two-time World Series champion (with the St. Louis Cardinals). "He knows his job is to go out there and play, and that's why he's one of the best in the game. He tries to cut out all the expectations.
"He's more special than what I was earlier in my career. He's a guy who has all the tools."
That's why Rays fan Craig Pearce of Bradenton didn't mind when his son, Lucas, 10, picked Friday night's game as his birthday present.
"He wanted to see Mike Trout," Pearce said. "It's fun watching his expressions. He got his autograph, too."
Said Lucas: "I got squished like a pancake!"
But he was grinning from ear to ear.