Classic atmosphere has Trout targeting postseason

March 27th, 2023

LOS ANGELES --  was back with the Angels for the first time since his experience in the World Baseball Classic as Team USA’s captain -- and that huge, championship-deciding at-bat against teammate and international two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani of Team Japan.

Before the Halos began their Freeway Series exhibition game with the Dodgers on Sunday at Dodger Stadium, Trout held court in the dugout and reflected on it all.

“It was an unbelievable experience, obviously,” said Trout, relating it to his memories on a travel ball team in high school … with slightly bigger stakes this time.

“Probably one of the coolest experiences I’ve had on a baseball field.”

Trout explained that after the immediate excitement of the Classic faded, he texted Angels manager Phil Nevin to share his thoughts on what he’d just experienced.

“You know, I needed this,” Trout summarized. “I needed to play in this atmosphere, I needed to experience it and be in the moment. It made me think how bad we want to get back in the playoffs. I obviously had it in ‘14, but [the WBC] atmosphere was … as a baseball fan, as a competitor, that’s where you want to play. You want to be in that moment.

“It was just a special, special few days.”

Heading into the Classic, with Team Japan and Team USA projected by many to both threaten for the title, it lent itself to dreams of a Trout vs. Ohtani showdown. That it happened in the exact way it did was almost a baseball fantasy, a special treat for all who tuned in around the world. Two of the greatest players of their generation facing off with the global tournament on the line? It was as epic a battle as anyone could have imagined.

“It was a fun battle,” Trout recalled. “We were both competing up there. That was my first time seeing him, obviously,” adding that this one-on-one gave Trout a taste of what everybody else has to deal with when they step into the box with Ohtani’s imposing presence glaring down at them from the mound.

“Now we’re teammates. I’m happy he’s my teammate,” Trout said with a smile. “It was a fun at-bat. He threw me a nasty 3-2 pitch, I missed some heaters before that. He’s a good pitcher, obviously.”

With all the emotion and drama of that moment in the rearview mirror, Trout and Ohtani can now get back to business and focus on the season ahead, which begins on Thursday in Oakland.

The Angels are heading into a 2023 season under a sizable microscope. It has been nearly a decade since the club made the postseason, and Ohtani is entering his final season before free agency. Last season, the Angels (73-89) wrapped their seventh consecutive finish under the .500 mark -- hardly the sort of result you’d expect from a team boasting some of the game’s premier talent.

“We brought in a lot of great guys,” Trout said of the Angels’ offseason moves. The club added Brandon Drury and Gio Urshela in the infield, Hunter Renfroe and Brett Phillips in the outfield and bolstered the bullpen with veterans such as Matt Moore and Carlos Estévez, among other roster tweaks.

Will it be enough to end the prolonged drought and push Trout and Ohtani onto the October stage? Time will tell, but it goes without saying that is the only goal for this season.

“Oh, for sure. I mean, any time you start the season, anything less than making the playoffs is a disappointment,” said Trout.

Nevin echoed that same sentiment, emphasizing the talent the Angels have on their roster on a daily basis.

“Any time you have a roster like ours, and you have expectations within our room like we do, every day has a sense of urgency,” said Nevin. “If you don’t, then I think we’re doing our teammates a [disservice], the organization, too. So every day to me is playing with a sense of urgency because of what's ahead of us.”

With a key year ahead of them, Trout is very keen on remaining Ohtani’s teammate for years to come, too.

“I’m always in his ear, for sure,” Trout said when asked about “recruitment efforts” to convince Ohtani to re-sign with the Angels. “We’ll see how it goes, but I’m always going to try to keep him here.”