MINNEAPOLIS — Mike Trout is burning up the base paths in Los Angeles. Bryce Harper is rocking and rolling in D.C. And the standings in both leagues are dotted with newcomers like the Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates who are surprisingly in the hunt for the playoffs.
Suddenly the Grand Old Game has a fresh-faced new edge to it as the season passes the halfway point and heads into the All-Star break.
As the big leagues prepare to convene in Kansas City for the midsummer classic, the 20-year-old Trout has electrified the Angels and brought them back into contention in the AL West, the Orioles are within shouting distance of the mighty New York Yankees in the AL East and the young Pirates are finally playing a brand of ball worthy of that gem of a ballpark in Pittsburgh.
One of the dusty old arguments used to criticize baseball is that the game is too often dominated by the same teams and same stars. Derek Jeter and the Yankees still lead the AL East, but David Ortiz and the Red Sox are looking up at Adam Jones and Baltimore in baseball’s best division, the veteran Philadelphia Phillies are buried in the cellar in the NL East and the defending champion Cardinals don’t look quite like themselves yet in the post Pujols era.
It’s no wonder that baseball officials are seeing rising attendance this season. There are some charismatic young stars that are giving fans new reasons to get off their couches and head to the ballpark to see what all the fuss is about.
It all starts with Trout, who is hitting .343 with 10 homers and 23 stolen bases in 60 games this season, becoming the rare power-speed dual threat.
“He’s been a game-changer, offensively, defensively,” New York manager Joe Girardi said earlier this season. “The kid has got a lot of talent, a ton. Usually when you see a guy that fast, you don’t anticipate him hitting the ball that hard. What he’s doing at 20, it’s really pretty amazing. You think about it, most guys don’t hit triples down the left-field line.”
And Trout isn’t even the youngest star setting the league on fire these days. Harper rocketed through the minor leagues to reach the big time at just 19, doing it his own way with a cocky attitude that rankled some of the old guard. Cole Hamels even drew a suspension for hitting Harper in the back early in the season.
Harper stole home an inning after being hit by Hamels, and he’s hitting .280 with eight homers and has shown off his rocket arm in the outfield to help the Nationals to the top of the division. He and Stephen Strasburg are giving the Redskins a run for their money as the most popular athletes in town. Attendance is up 32 percent in an area that hasn’t seen a first-place baseball team since 1933.
“When you go into restaurants, fans are coming up to you and shaking your hand,” Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond said, “saying we appreciate what you’ve done for us and done for the city.”
Andrew McCutchen, the 25-year-old speedster in center field, was hitting .360 with 16 homers and 54 RBIs as of Thursday to help revive the Pirates.
So as the pennant races heat up and the stakes rise in the second half, will these kids be intimidated?
That’s a clown question, bro.
• BRAVES OF BOURN REPLACES DESMOND ON ALL-STAR TEAM: Atlanta Braves outfielder Michael Bourn is going to the All-Star game after all.
Bourn, who lost to David Freese in online voting for one of the final spots, is replacing Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond on the NL roster for Tuesday’s game in Kansas City.
Desmond has been dealing with a left oblique strain and is going to use the break to rest. The decision was made Saturday after Desmond consulted with team doctors, management and NL manager Tony La Russa.
Bourn made the NL All-Star team for the second time. He entered Saturday’s game at Philadelphia with a .305 batting average, seven homers, 32 RBIs and 23 stolen bases.
• STANTON TO UNDERGO ARTHROSCOPIC KNEE SURGERY: Giancarlo Stanton will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Sunday after lasting just two innings in his first start in five games, leaving the Miami Marlins without a representative on the field at Tuesday’s All-Star game.
Manager Ozzie Guillen guessed Stanton would miss about a month. General manager Mike Hill said the procedure to remove a loose body in the knee is fairly routine.
Stanton started Saturday’s 3-2 loss at St. Louis but was removed for a pinch hitter in the third.
Stanton, who singled and scored on Justin’s Ruggiano’s two-run homer in the second, began the day with a .282 batting average, 19 homers and 50 RBIs. He also was scheduled to participate in Monday’s All-Star home run derby in Kansas City.