Being a lifelong fan of baseball, I appreciate a good old-fashioned nickname. There isn’t anything wrong with them. I don’t think there are enough classically good ones in the game today. To many people, the Millville Meteor means nothing. To those baseball fans who are more self aware, they know this to be the nickname of Los Angeles Angels‘ Mike Trout. I suppose though, to some people, ignorance is bliss.
A while back during one of my most nocturnal evenings, I was scouring through the pages of one of my favorite websites. Each player with a nickname is listed on this site, and I was intrigued to know if the enigmatic young Trout had yet been coined with one.
I was reading a popular baseball blog, and the author was more or less writing about what a stupid nickname the Millville Meteor was. The author went on a tirade for some time about how America had just thrown another M word after Millville to give it an alliterative twang and be done with it. I guess he didn’t pause to think about its significance for a minute. Or, worse yet, bother to do any research. Something baseball writers should know can be of the utmost importance. I think SABR or the BBWAA can attest to that.
Trout was born in Vineland, NJ and attended Millville Senior High School in Millville, NJ. The creation of his nickname, wherever its origins play from, pays homage to one of the all-time greats of the game. A legend the young Trout happens to share attributes with.
Mickey Mantle, or The Mick, or Muscles or the Commerce Comet, grew up in Commerce, OK. Like Trout, he was a physical specimen from the day he entered the big leagues at the age of 19 (Trout also saw his first regular ABs in MLB at age 19). Like Trout, he was a five-tool player who played center field. And once more like Trout, he was probably the finest baseball player of his generation.
The nickname may sound sort of oldish and cheesy, but so what? There’s something wholesome about that era in baseball — something pure and captivating. I myself, at times, wish I grew up in the period of the Bambino, or Yankee Clipper, or Splendid Splinter or Stan the Man.
Back then, at least these men played and appreciated baseball mostly for their love of the game. Many of their careers were broken up by fighting in a world war. They were considered true heros of their time. There were no steroids, just steak dinners and a nice scotch to wash it down with afterward. Athletes weren’t bickering about contracts or tweeting stupid nonsense of ridiculous selfies to garner unwarranted attention. You showed up to the yard, played your heart out and worked towards making a (nick)name for yourself. Simple as that.
Trout personifies many of these traits. He appears to be humble. He entered the game after the era of Bonds, McGwire and Sosa, so we can believe he is a natural talent, not tainted by one of baseball’s greater scandals. If the projections hold true, baseball fans are witnessing something very special. It’s a beautiful thing that Trout’s game is blessed enough for his nickname to pay respect and tribute to one of the more raw talents that has come the way of baseball in the last century. To understand what is in a nickname, is to understand baseball.
Nicknames born on the sandlot’s of America is what made the sport a game, a pastime, a true defining feature of American culture and the very livelihood that gave people hope and happiness during some of the country’s darker moments — depressions, wars, civil rights movements. Baseball has seen it all.
To scoff at the nickname is to scoff at the game. Today’s game needs more Shoeless Joe’s, Hammerin’ Hank’s and Say Hey Kid’s. Nicknames that resonate with generations, both young and old, is one of the pillars that make baseball great.
So let Trout, or The Mike or Prince Fish have his nicknames. He has a chance to live up to all of them. Mantle won his first of three MVPs when he was 24. Trout, 22, has already finished second in AL MVP voting twice in his career. It’s a touch ironic that most meteors are a brief flash in the night sky before they crash to earth. This particular meteor however, is one of a kind. He has only begun his ascension.