By Jeff Uveino
Late on a Saturday night, I found myself in a familiar place.
Sitting in front of the television, a baseball game projected from the screen.
The Los Angeles Angels were on –a rare sight for my home in upstate New York.
As the night crept into the early morning hours, my thought was, “I’ve gotta stay up until Mike Trout hits.”
About a half-hour later, the stud outfielder came up to the plate and crushed a fastball into the left field bleachers.
I sat back and thought, “wow, that guy is good.”
It’s hard to argue that Trout isn’t the best player in baseball. Some even maintain that when his career is over, Trout will be the best to ever play the game.
He’s finished top-four in American League Most Valuable Player voting in each of his seven full years in MLB, is a seven-time All Star and six-time Silver Slugger. And he’s only 27. It’s a pleasure to be able to have that type of player in the game today.
Here’s the problem. For the majority of Americans, you’ll need to stay up until midnight to watch him.
Since Trout plays for a west coast team, many of his games don’t start until 10 p.m. eastern time. ESPN will sometimes feature Trout and the Angels on its “Sunday Night Baseball,” but other than that, I’m lucky to get five or 10 Angels games a year on television.
And that’s if I’m willing to stay up late to watch them.
Trout started his career with the Angels in 2012 after they drafted him in 2009, and after recently signing a contract extension for 12 years, $428 million, it looks as if he will finish it with them.
Playing on a west coast team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2014 isn’t exactly a great way to for Trout to market himself.
It seems impossible that a guy who could be the best player in Major League history could fly under the radar. But it’s rare to see headlines from Trout during the regular season.
He’s just kind of there, in center field of Angel Stadium, being the best player in the game.
Maybe it’s my east coast bias, maybe I’m jealous of the Angels fans who get to watch Trout for six months every year (not to mention Albert Pujols!), but it seems to me that Trout playing on a lackluster Los Angeles team for his entire career is a waste of talent.
That’s true for Major League Baseball, which is looking for any way possible to market a game that is in danger of falling behind the National Basketball Association in popularity.
Another example? Nolan Arenado.
The Colorado Rockies third baseman just signed a seven-year, $260 million contract extension before the 2019 season.
Arenado, a four-time All Star who finished third in National League Most Valuable Player voting last year, is another top 10, maybe top five, player in the game who can rarely
be seen by east coast fans.
The recent success of the Rockies, who have reached the postseason each of the last two seasons, helps Arenado’s exposure. Good teams are on national television more than bad ones.
But playing in Colorado still hurts Arenado’s exposure.
Look at Aaron Judge. He’s an MVP-caliber player, but not a generational talent like Trout.
Judge in constantly in the press. He’s the face of TOPPS baseball cards this year. I would be willing to argue that the most casual baseball fans, especially young ones, would be more likely to recognize Aaron Judge than Mike Trout.
What has helped Judge become one of the faces of the game (other than his historical size)?
He plays for the New York Yankees, of course.
And when you play for the Yankees, or other east coast teams such as the Red Sox, Phillies, Indians and Nationals, America gets to watch you a lot more than when you play for the Angels.
Am I bashing Trout and Arenado for taking those extensions?
Of course not, those decisions are bigger than baseball and they’ve found a comfort zone with their clubs.
But when it’s hard for the majority of the game’s fans to watch its superstars, it’s easy to see why baseball is struggling to promote itself.