A year ago at this time, the hype machine had already far surpassed overdrive for Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. They were causing a full-scale meltdown of the metaphorical hype machine. Bryce Harper wasn't an 18 year old boy amongst 20-something year old men in A Ball, rather an 18 year old man against 20-something year old boys (comparatively) in A Ball. Mike Trout was the same as a 19 year old in AA, simply dominating the competition. The most popular question among prospect analysts was "Who do you like better, Trout or Harper?" Fast forward a year, and they aren't prospects anymore, but superstars and the question still remains (though not posed at prospect analysts but baseball's brightest minds), which player is better? Regardless of opinion, both have taking the league by storm in a manner which hasn't been done by a pair their age in a VERY long time. But their paths to this promised land of major league success, fame and fortune were quite different.
Bryce Harper grew up under the bright lights of Las Vegas, Nevada. From an early age, it was clear that Bryce Harper was a superior athlete and would one day be a superstar. At age 15 he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and was dubbed "The Chosen One". After his sophomore year, Bryce dropped out of school and earned his GED in a strategic move to enter the MLB draft early. In what would have been Bryce's junior year of high school he instead attended the College of Southern Nevada and went on to break all sorts of ridiculous records. Harper's on field demeanor was fiery, having been ejected and suspended from multiple games. He wore heavy amounts of eye black that made him look as much like a baseball player as a wrestling hero. Harper grew out facial hair just as soon as he was capable and could be found sporting any number of fashionable hair trends that mostly resembled a mohawk. He was the clear cut top amateur in the draft, was picked first overall and with the help of super agent Scott Boras, signed for close to 10 million dollars by the Washington Nationals.
Mike Trout was born and raised in a small town in New Jersey (Millville). He too was an exceptionally gifted athlete, though not branded a prodigy like Harper. Trout was a decent enough student in school that never brought unnecessary attention to himself. He was young for his grade level and technically could have graduated high school a year later and still have been an average aged high school senior. Trout was scouted by a plethora of major league teams but wasn't well hyped as most prospects from the East Coast do not measure up with their counterparts in the Western United States. He and every other prospect played second fiddle to another prodigy named Steven Strasburg. More than 20 teams passed Trout over in the 1st round before the Angels selected him. Trout's demeanor is quiet and respectful, though he always seems to have a smile on his face. He doesn't wear eye black, doesn't argue with umpires, doesn't have any facial hair and sports a short, clean haircut. Trout quietly signed with the Angels for 1.2 million dollars, roughly 1/10th of what Bruce Harper made.
It's hard to imagine two ball players that are more different in their approach to this game. One isn't afraid of being branded the bad boy, while the other is the All-American you can count on. Cinematically (or comic books if you prefer) it's like Ironman versus Captain America, or Wolverine versus Cyclops. Harper blows kisses at opposing pitchers, but backs up such showmanship with towering homeruns and as much hustle and effort as anyone on the field. Trout looks down, quietly talks to himself in the batters box before the pitch comes, sprays hits to all parts of the field and runs from the right-handed batters box to first base faster than anyone in the history of the game. Trout has impressive big league power, but not like Bryce Harper. Bryce Harper has impressive big league speed, but not like Mike Trout. Both are on pace to approach, reach or break records previously held by 19 and 20 year olds in the majors. Both have brought fans to the ball park by the thousands. Both have served as a catalyst for their respective teams and both have a solid shot at making the all-star team and getting into the playoffs. And wouldn't it make sense if someday they both met in the Fall Classic?
In sports, we use two competitors to hype a game, a rivalry and the sport. And if we're lucky, we'll see them battle one another for the title. Unitas versus Namath. Magic versus Bird. Ali versus Frasier. Agassi versus Sampras. Tiger versus Phil. Manning versus Brady. Two contrasting figures at the top of their game, trading blows and winning world championships. At 19 and 20 years old, neither Harper or Trout are at the top of their games. But over the next 15 years, it isn't hard to imagine adding Harper versus Trout to this list of great rivals.