Will wearing Mike Trout's new shoes make you as good at baseball as Mike Trout? We investigated...
No matter how much they may deny it, every baseball writer really harbors the wish to lace up their cleats and run around a Major League diamond. I'm sure many writers practice their swing in the mirror before going to bed, hoping that one day, maybe, just maybe, the manager may look into the press box and motion them down for a big pinch-hit appearance.
At least, I do that.
So when I heard word that the release of Mike Trout's newest shoe, the Nike Lunar Trout 2, would feature an on-field workout with Angels coaches, I leapt at the opportunity. (Even if I did have nightmare flashes of a repeat of my Little League career, when I went 1-for-17 with more errors than games played.) How badly would the fellow writers laugh at me? And would I then realize that I forgot to put on my shorts and that the entire Angels team was happily Instagramming the aftermath?
Telling myself that I was simply being paranoid, I put those thoughts away and made it down to the Dax Gallery in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Friday morning for the unveiling of Trout's newest shoe. It made sense that the launch was housed inside an art gallery, as the cleat and its accompanying turf shoe are works of art.
The amount of work that went into making the shoe lighter makes you understand why mankind was able to go to the moon. I'm pretty sure there's some NASA science involved in this thing.
Of course, as someone with limited understanding of physics, math and science (anything not covered by Bill Nye is foreign to me), I was more interested in the look of the cleat.
While I love Trout's leaping body on the shoe, along with the Statcast-esque numbers that are detailed on it, my favorite highlight is that you step on Mike Trout's face every time you put the shoe on.
That's right -- even Mike Trout is stepping on his own face before running out onto the field.
MLB Network's Eric Byrnes, John Brenkus of Sport Science, designer Ken Link and Mike Trout himself came out to present the shoe. There was a beautiful spread of breakfast food, but I knew that I would need to show off all my athletic abilities later that afternoon. Abstaining from pastries and eggs was painful, but sometimes that's just the life of an athlete.
Once we finished, we headed to the stadium and changed into our Mike Trout-approved gear. And though I didn't understand the science behind how the shoe was made, they really did feel great. Though they were brand new, they were incredibly comfortable as soon as I put them on and I did feel faster.
My beautiful pale leg. But just look at that expert shoe-tying skills. Can Mike Trout match that? (Probably.)
I started at the hitting booth, where Angels assistant hitting coach Dave Hansen explained how Trout's natural swing path helps him bash pitches low in the zone, whereas Albert Pujols' swing is on more of a flat plane, allowing him an easier time hitting home runs on higher pitches.
Here's one of those lower pitches that Trout can hit and other mortals simply watch go by.
Knowing that I wouldn't have a chance of matching up with Trout's abilities, I knew I had to play more to my strength -- so I bunted. Sadly, even my bunting form doesn't quite match up with the image I had in my head. Don't think this will be on any highlight reels any time soon -- though the shoes do look good.
Some have said my bunts changed the shape of the future. Angels are rumored to want to sign me as bunt coach. pic.twitter.com/eMBGleGCPI- Michael Clair (@clairbearattack) September 11, 2015
Next, we headed over to a fielding drill to attempt Mike Trout-like running catches. Even though they wouldn't expect us to range across massive spaces in the outfield before making a leaping grab, the hundreds of line drives that got past 11-year-old me raced through my mind as third-base coach Gary DiSarcina put us through the motions. After making the first grab, I got a little cocky.
Just look at that amazing form. It's all thanks to the shoes.
Racing backward on the next toss, I realized that I had turned over the wrong shoulder and, twisting like a dog caught in its leash, watched as the ball lifted over my head, coming to a stop about three feet behind me.
When I asked DiSarcina at the end of the drill if he thought scouts would be impressed by my work, he politely laughed. He must not have heard my question.
Next we worked on our throws from the outfield with bench coach and former third-base coach, Dino Ebel. Explaining to us that a player's footwork when fielding the ball largely determined if he would send the runner home or not, we focused on our form as we were rolled ground balls, tossed pop-ups and, finally, put in a position where we needed to throw out an imaginary runner in a bottom-of-the-ninth, tie-game situation -- our speed, form, and arms all that would keep the game tied up.
Here's my attempt at matching Jeff Karstens' legendary pitch face.
I scooped the ball cleanly, my left foot planted in front, arced my arm back and ... threw the ball 20 feet to the left of our fill-in catcher. Oh, it also didn't have the necessary distance to reach him, either. After the drill, I asked Ebel where he would grade my arm on the 20-80 scouting scale. Whereas Trout fits in comfortably above average, I was hoping for something in the "30, 35 range, maybe?"
"20," he said. "On a good day."
Finally, we finished our work with some sprints. As the slowest player in my slow-pitch softball league, I knew this was where Trout's shoes could make their biggest difference. Setting up bases 90 feet apart, team strength and conditioning coach TJ Harrington told us to pretend like we were stealing bags. After busting my way down the line, showing off the best that I had, Harrington revealed that we were just getting warmed up.
"Getting warmed up?" I thought to myself. "I'm not sure I'm going to be able to move for a week."
After teaching us that the secret to getting a good jump on the bases is actually pivoting your front foot and bringing it a step inward to launch yourself, I thought, "There's the trick I've been missing my whole life." Flash's speed force had been opened to me.
With Harrington timing us on his trusty stopwatch, I followed his advice and took off down the line. The wind was blowing through my (albeit balding) hair, the sound of 40,000 imaginary fans were screaming in my ears. Was this that magic moment I was hoping for? Had Trout's shoes magically transformed me into a living double of the runner who can reach 21 mph while sprinting around the bases?
"4.86 seconds" Harrington shouted as I crossed the bag. Huffing, and knowing that I hadn't reached anywhere close to Trout's speed, I asked, "Am I faster than any Major Leaguers?"
Without pausing to even give me the hope that it was a difficult question, he told me, "No." Later, Ebel would boost my spirits by telling me that there was one former Angels player that my time beat, though I'll keep his name secret so as not to shame him with my athletic prowess.
As the workout came to an end and sweat was pouring down my face in a decidedly unbecoming fashion, I asked the coaches if they'd recommend signing me. DiSarcina told me in a kind, "I like you as a friend" way, that the closest I was going to get to the field was by "buying a ticket." After protesting that I was a five-tool player, just that all my tools were 20s, Ebel pointed out that if i just happened to have one plus-hitting tool, the rest could be excused.
With that information in my back pocket, and the Trout 2s on my feet, I knew what I'd have to do: Hit up the batting cages. Because while I may not have played like a pro on Friday afternoon, I absolutely felt like one. And maybe that's the power of Trout's new shoe, even if it can't turn a baseball writer into a Major Leaguer.