Way to Go: Kid Reporter Gets Trout, Ohtani Interviews At Little League Classic

ALSO: WHO WILL FOLLOW MIGGY INTO 500 HOME RUN CLUB?

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Pregame Pepper

Did You Know?

The Mets dropped 11 games in the standings (from four up to seven down) since August 1, thanks to their just-completed 2-11 skid against the Giants and Dodgers . . .

Washington’s Juan Soto is the only man with more walks than strikeouts this season . .

The last Yankees pitcher to lead the American League in strikeouts was Al Downing in 1964 . . .

No Athletics pitcher has won a strikeout crown since Lefty Grove in 1931 . . .

Aaron Boone has a better winning percentage as manager of the Yankees than Joe Torre or Joe Girardi . . .

Yankees born in New York who homered for the club: Andrew Velazquez, Tim Locastro, Alex Rodriguez, Raul Ibanez, John Flaherty, and Clay Bellinger . . .

The 2021 Chicago Cubs lost more consecutive games in Wrigley Field (13) than any previous club . . .

Finally winners Thursday night after 18 losses in a row, the Baltimore Orioles recalled the 1961 Philadelphia Phillies, who dropped 23 straight.

Leading Off

A Young Reporter’s Memorable Experiences from the MLB Little League Classic

By Anna Laible

The moment I found out that I was covering the MLB Little League Classic game in Williamsport, my first thought was, “I could meet and interview Shohei Ohtani!”

It’s not very often that an opportunity arises when you can interview two of the top players in the game in one evening - Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. It wouldn’t be easy to accomplish, but I was for sure going to give it my best shot.

Shohei Ohtani is the ultimate MLB player — he can pitch, he can hit, and he can steal bases. Ohtani became the first player in major-league history to become a two-way All-Star, meaning that he was nominated as a top pitcher and position player in the American League. He will likely win the AL MVP this season, and will probably be a finalist in the Cy Young top pitching award as well.

No one has ever seen this kind of talent, as Babe Ruth was the only other two-way player to really ever grace the MLB stage during his career from 1924-1935. If Ohtani can keep dominating on both sides, he could likely become one of the greatest baseball players ever to live. 

On the other hand, Mike Trout has been regarded as one of the GOAT’s only half-way through his MLB career. A nine-time All Star, Trout is as talented a player that anyone will ever see. While he hasn’t been able to play the last few months due to a calf injury, Trout came to Williamsport to inspire the kids and to support his teammates.

When I arrived in Williamsport, I picked up my credentials and headed to find some interviews. The scene wouldn’t be the same because of COVID, but it was so great to be back after the entire LLWS and MLB Little League Classic game were canceled in 2020. But before I knew it, the rain was pouring down without any signs of stopping. I was worried the weather would affect my goals of talking with Ohtani and Trout.

Within an hour, however, the rain stopped. I started with some pre-game press conferences.

In one of the press conferences, I was among 10 other reporters and asked Mike Trout some questions. I don’t think I have ever been so nervous to ask a question then when I was with the GOAT. But all those nerves went away when he looked at me at the end of the press conference, and said, “You asked some great questions.” Not only is he a talented baseball player, but his kindness off the field to others is shown on a regular basis as his passion for suicide prevention drives donations to the community.

Next, I made my way onto the field looking for an opportunity to talk with the game’s biggest superstar. After taking in the views of Ohtani warming up, I talked with Angels first base coach Bruce Hines. Coach Hines couldn’t say enough good things about Shohei, talking about how he was in awe of Ohtani every time that he came up to bat, having coached in MLB since 1991. 

At the end of Ohtani’s warmup, Coach Hines talked with Ohtani about a potential interview. The two-way star had walked off the field, but then came back onto it with his translator. I was suddenly surrounded by 10-15 Japanese photographers and started to get nervous with all the media. But, I was grateful for such an incredible opportunity since Ohtani gives very few interviews. He is trying to be the next Babe Ruth, something many Little Leaguers hope to do in the future.

Talking with one of these All-Stars would be amazing, but two — let alone in one day — was a dream that I couldn’t put into words! I was literally awe-struck the entire night by Trout’s kindness and Ohtani’s talent, and I’m still grateful for the amazing interviews with these stars.

This day I will never forget - the moment when I was able to interview two of the top players in the country, both likely future Hall of Famers!

Cleaning Up

Game Faces Long Wait For Next 500 Home Run Club Member

By Dan Schlossberg

Now that Miguel Cabrera has swelled the 500 Club membership to 28, who’s next?

Cabrera connected for the milestone home run Sunday against the Toronto Blue Jays but the Detroit first baseman had a long wait at age 38.

Nelson Cruz, who ranks second in home runs among active players, might have to wait a long time too.

Cruz needs 57 more but he’s 41 and the oldest active player in the major leagues. Plus he just came off the COVID-19 injury list with the Tampa Bay Rays.

True, the DH saves the wear-and-tear of being an everyday outfielder but Father Time can exact a cruel toll once a player reaches the ripe old athletic age of 40.

Cruz had 41 home runs in 2019 but that was too years ago. At his age, two years is a long time.

So, nu, who’s next in line?

Giancarlo Stanton, 31, has enjoyed something of a revival at the plate after moving from DH duty to the Yankees outfield. The towering right-handed slugger, who once hit 59 home runs in a single season, has 333 career long balls. But that’s still far from 500 – especially for a guy who spends so much time on the sidelines with assorted injuries.

He’d be a much better bet if he batted left-handed, since lefties thrive with the short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium.

Another Yankee outfielder, Aaron Judge, matches the Stanton storyline. He’s huge, and he’s productive, but he’s also injury-prone and also a right-handed hitter stuck in a home stadium that favors lefties. He and Stanton would be locks for 500 if they played all their home games in Fenway Park!

Judge, 29, went into this season with 119 home runs but has never resembled the rookie who smacked 52 in 2017.

Former MVPs Bryce Harper and Mike Trout might be better bets. Harper, who won the MVP trophy while playing for the Washington Nationals, is playing in the perfect ballpark: the Philadelphia bandbox known as Citizens Bank Park. And he’s having another MVP-caliber year. But the 28-year-old right-fielder had only 232 home runs at the start of this season and only topped 40 once.

As for Trout, who’s won the award three times, he lost a huge chunk of the 2021 season to injuries. He was also hurt and sidelined for parts of three other seasons, explaining why he has only 310 home runs at age 30. On the other hand, he’s topped 40 in a season twice, led his league in on-base percentage four times, and slugging three times.

Angels teammate Shohei Ohtani, just getting started, is virtually certain to win the American League’s MVP award this season as well as the home run crown. He’s on pace to hit more than 50 – not bad for a pitcher who started the All-Star Game!

But 500? Only if he gives up pitching and concentrates exclusively on hitting, as Babe Ruth did when facing the same career path.

Manny Machado turned 29 on July 6 and is approaching 250 career home runs – halfway to 500. But Petco Park isn’t the most homer-friendly field in the majors, although Fernando Tatis Jr. might not agree.

Tatis has spent most of this season leading the National League in home runs. But he might have had competition from Ronald Acuna Jr., who had 24 before tearing his ACL while trying to catch a Jazz Chisholm drive just before the All-Star break.

In fact, all three Juniors – Tatis, Acuna, and Vladimir Guerrero of the Toronto Blue Jays – are definite candidates for 500 home runs. It will just take time for them to get there, even though all three probably have home run crowns and MVP awards in their future. Tatis and Guerrero are 22, barely old enough to vote under U.S. election law, while Acuna is just a year older.

Speaking of youth, Miguel Cabrera was just 20 when he hit his very first home run: a walkoff grand-slam that won a game for the Miami (then Florida) Marlins.

Yes, the frugal Fish traded him away long before they did the same to Stanton.

Dark horses: Freddie Freeman, National League MVP in 2020 but a man whose lefty swing produces more line-drives than home run; Joey Votto, who started the season at 295 home runs but will celebrate his 38th birthday next month; 27-year-old Joey Gallo, whose lefty swing now seems perfectly paired with his home ballpark (Yankee Stadium); and Juan Soto, just 22, but like Freeman more of a line-drive hitter than a long-ball artist.

No, Mets fans: we haven’t forgotten Pete Alonso. But he’s 26 and unlikely to ever again approach his rookie-record 53 home runs of 2019. Making contact is an issue for him.

Here’s The Pitch weekend editor Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ also writes baseball for forbes.com, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Latino Sports, Ball Nine, and Sports Collectors Digest. E.mail him at ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

Members of the 500 Home Run Club from other countries: Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz . . .

Cabrera says he wants to play two more years but will he retard the progress of the up-and-coming young Tigers? . . .

When George W. Bush threw out the first ball at Yankee Stadium during the 2001 World Series, one of the “umpires” on the field with him was a heavily-armed Secret Service agent . . .

Eloy Jimenez is the only player in White Sox history with at least two homers and five RBI in consecutive games . . .

Despite spending three separate stints on the IL, San Diego slugger Fernando Tatís Jr. is set to become the first man to lead the NL in homers and stolen bases since Chuck Klein in 1932 . . .

Tatís homered in his first game back on all three occasions and now has the most homers of anyone age 22 or younger.


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.

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