MINNEAPOLIS -- On Tuesday night, under the sparkling Minnesota sky, they will play baseball on the same diamond, very likely for the last time. It will be Derek Jeter's final All-Star Game. It will be Mike Trout's third.
They will wear the same uniform, dress in the same clubhouse, find themselves on the same lineup card. But don't let those similarities confuse you. This is the night, this is the time, this is the place where their paths diverge.
It's a night to reflect on the starlit road Jeter has traveled. But as Jeter waves goodbye, he has a torch to pass. You could make a case for that torch landing in the grasp of many players who will join him on that field Tuesday night: Andrew McCutchen ... Giancarlo Stanton ... Yasiel Puig ... Clayton Kershaw.
But who is better positioned to grab that torch and not let go than Mike Trout?
The more we see of him, the more we get to know him, the more it feels as if he rolled into baseball out of the pages of a W.P. Kinsella novel. Larger than life. Too gifted and humble to be real.
So why can't this be Trout's night, too? A night to put his stamp on a special All-Star Game. A night with the potential to make us reflect on where he's going -- for about the next two decades -- and on where he might be taking this whole sport along with him.
"Derek Jeter is going to have an All-Star moment, but it's going to be more of a career-reflection moment," said Bill Sutton, one of America's brightest sports-marketing minds, and the director of the Sports and Entertainment Management MBA program at the University of South Florida. "But if Mike Trout does something that becomes an All-Star moment, it's not a career-reflection moment. It's a whole different kind of thing. ... It's about the future of the game."
And inside baseball's inner sanctum, there's nothing they root for harder than for Mike Trout to BE the future of their game. Heck, even the commissioner, good old Bud Selig, found himself telling a story recently of how he asked a longtime scout friend about the legend of Trout.
"I said, 'Compare him to somebody,'" Selig recalled. "He thought for a second -- and he was dead serious -- and he said, 'Mickey Mantle-type ability.' And that's breathtaking. Really breathtaking."
"Mickey Mantle-type ability," the commissioner repeated, after swirling those words around in his brain for a few seconds. "Breathtaking."
But if that's really what Trout is going to become -- That Guy, the next Mantle, the next face of the sport, that next transcendent, breathtaking star -- a lot has to happen, on and off the field.
So let's take advantage of this unique night, this potentially pivotal moment in time, and consider what has to happen -- and how well-positioned Trout is to make those things happen. Ready? Here we go:
Before we really delve into where this guy is going, we need to reflect on where he has already gone. At age 22, here is the kind of company Trout is already keeping:
• He's moved into first place, in the history of baseball, in wins above replacement through his age-22 season. He's currently at 25.8, just ahead of Ty Cobb (25.5). Right behind them on that list you'll find another nobody named Ted Williams (23.6).