For Mike Trout, injuries now a painful, unavoidable and consistent part of his story

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Mike Trout spoke barely above a whisper as he tried to hold back tears and mask the emotion of what this all meant.

Moments like this have become all too familiar for one of the game’s most recognizable superstars. Trout has always embodied the youthful exuberance of his sport. His nickname is “Kiiiid.” Baseball has always seemingly come so easy to him.

But this — this was difficult. Barely able to lift his head to face the reality of having to explain this could all be happening once again. Another injury. Another recovery. Another day of coping with an awful reality he can’t change. This time, it was a freak tear of the meniscus in his knee, suffered while walking back to the dugout. Now he’s sidelined once again.

“Yeah,” Trout said, pausing as he tried to gather himself. “It’s just frustrating. But we’ll get through it.”

In Trout’s prime, he competed in nearly every game. From 2013 to 2016 he played at least 157 games each season. Seeing his name on the lineup card was never in question.

But the last four seasons have changed all of that. In 2021, he missed 126 games with a season-ending calf strain suffered in mid-May. In 2022, he spent five weeks on the IL with a back ailment. Last year, Trout broke his hamate bone in early July and returned for only one game in August.

It is unclear how long he’ll be out. The optimistic timeline is around eight to 12 weeks. That means a late summer return is in the cards — around his 33rd birthday in early August. But Trout has notably taken a while to recover from his past ailments, meaning nothing is guaranteed.

“Nobody wants to play more than Mike,” said Angels general manager Perry Minasian. “He loves this. He loves everything about this. He wakes up thinking about it. He goes to bed thinking about it. He eats, sleeps and breathes baseball. I really feel for him.”

Four days before this season started, Trout stood outside the visiting clubhouse at Dodger Stadium, smiling as he was asked about becoming “the old Mike Trout” in 2024. Trout pays attention to what people say about him. Only Trout knows how much he internalizes it all. But he’s aware. Meaning he knows that people believe “the old Mike Trout” is a thing of the past.

The Angels weren’t projected to be good this season. Trout’s status as the best player on one of the worst teams is long-running and unchanging. But this comment came on the eve of Opening Day, when even the lowest of expectations get swept up in the excitement of a clean slate.

“I think a lot of people are writing me off,” Trout said that day, sounding almost excited about it. “I just use it as motivation.”

“I like it,” he added, a little sheepishly. “I like it.”

What’s most painful about this injury — about all these injuries — is not simply what it means for him and his team’s season. It’s that it, and they, become a part of his story. For a decade, Trout established himself as one of the game’s all-time greats. A modern-day Mickey Mantle, whose transcendent talent will be the only context needed to understand his legacy.

Injuries can’t take away what he’s already done. But there will now always be a “what if” element to his career. What if COVID and four injury-plagued seasons hadn’t wiped out the back half of Trout’s prime? Now, whether he likes it or not, he’s the superstar that can’t stay on the field.

“I play the game hard, and s— happens,” Trout said, trying to explain how this particular injury occurred.

Trout seemed to genuinely be enjoying baseball more in 2024. He’d stolen six bases in the season’s first month. That element had disappeared from his game since 2019. He hadn’t stolen more than two bags in any season since.

Things hadn’t been going perfectly, of course. He was hitting just .220, far below his career average, which dipped below .300 just days ago. His 10 homers tied for the MLB lead, but he was clearly still finding himself at the plate.

At some point, he’ll return to the team. And the question of his productivity and health will be even more magnified. His durability is a question now, and he’s only getting older. He is under contract through 2030. Trout’s ability to perform and post had never been a concern. But it will be for the duration of his career.

“I talked with him,” said Angels manager Ron Washington. “It’s something he had no control over. He’s going to be in our heart.”

Trout envisioned what it would mean to finally win in Anaheim. For all he’s accomplished in his career, team success has been elusive.

When he arrived at spring training, he reaffirmed his loyalty to this franchise. Because, he said, when he wins, it would be sweeter to do it for the team that he’s been with since he was that baby-faced teenager; the team that gave him his first chance.

It’s hard for fans across the sport to understand. The Angels are, justifiably, the butt of every joke. They’ve failed to build a good team around Trout. And have failed him in the process.

After Trout talked to the local media, he went back to his chair in the clubhouse. sitting there, alone, until Mickey Moniak came up to chat with him. It will be Moniak who fills in at center for Trout. And just having that conversation, where he gave Moniak encouragement, one can see why Trout values being here. And what value his presence brings, even when he can’t play.

“It’s really tough,” Moniak said. “That’s our captain. That’s our guy. Our leader.”

Each of Trout’s injuries have felt inexplicably freakish. The calf tear came running the bases, and never came back. His back injury was a rare condition. His hamate break came on a foul ball. And this seemingly came as he walked back to the dugout in the third inning on Monday night. The real pain didn’t arrive until after the game.

It’s not as though he has a singular chronic issue. They’re all independent of each other, and seemingly haven’t impacted him beyond the duration of their individual recoveries.

But they add up to the same problem: An all-time legend who can now no longer stay on the field.

“It hurts right now,” Trout said. “But I’ve got to look at the positives. And get back, crush the rehab, support my teammates, and go from there.”

(Photo: Stacy Revere / Getty Images)

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