When Mike Trout announced during the All-Star Game media day last summer that he was going to play in the World Baseball Classic for the first time, the other primary topic he faced that day was his sore back.
It would be more than a month before Trout played again, including a brief moment when the baseball world was concerned his back injury might be a problem for the rest of his career.
On Thursday, Trout again spoke about how excited he was to play in the WBC, but this time it was a different story about his back.
“The back’s been a non-issue for the past four months,” Trout said on a Zoom call hosted by Major League Baseball to promote the WBC. “I felt it a little bit when I first came back, but I’ve been on top of it pretty well. Just keeping the same routine in the weight room, just to warm up and make sure sure all the muscles around it are strong.”
The fitness of Trout’s back is one of the keys for the Angels heading into the 2023 season, and it’s one reason some Angels fans have some trepidation about seeing him ramp up even earlier than normal for the high-intensity games of the WBC.
Trout, 31, was out from July 13 to Aug. 19 last season with what was called a costovertebral dysfunction. Although the condition is rare in baseball players, causing fear around the sport that it could derail a Hall of Fame career, Trout said all along that he was not worried.
He played in 40 of 44 games after returning, and he hit .308 with 16 homers and a 1.056 OPS in those games.
Trout said he’s feeling fine as he prepares to open camp with the Angels, who have their first workout Feb. 15 in Tempe, Ariz. Trout will be with the Angels from then until March 7, when Team USA opens its camp in Scottsdale, about 10 miles away from Tempe Diablo Stadium.
That will give Trout a few weeks to get to know the new teammates general manager Perry Minasian added in an effort to end the franchise’s seven-year playoff drought.
Most notably, the Angels added outfielder Hunter Renfroe, infielders Gio Urshela and Brandon Drury and pitchers Tyler Anderson and Carlos Estevez.
“I think Perry’s done a great job bringing in some pieces that we were missing last year,” Trout said.
When Trout does leave the Angels temporarily, he will embark on an experience that he now regrets he hasn’t had yet. Trout did not participate in either of the other two WBC’s during his career – in 2013 and 2017.
“Last WBC, I was on the fence of doing it or not doing and when I decided not to do it, watching the games I kind of regretted that I didn’t do it,” he said.
This time, Trout was the first player to publicly announce his participation. Team USA general manager Tony Reagins – who was the Angels’ GM when Trout was drafted – named Trout the captain.
Team USA will play its four pool-play games at Chase Field in Phoenix, from March 11-15. If they advance, they will play the rest of the tournament in Miami.
Team USA will have to make it to Miami for Trout to have a chance to face Shohei Ohtani, who will be playing for Team Japan.
Trout said he’d be eager to get a look at Ohtani from the batter’s box.
“It’s pretty nasty,” he said. “Every every person I talk to that faces him says they don’t want to be in the box. It’s going to be interesting. I’m looking forward to it.”
The two teams could not meet before the semifinals March 19 in Miami. The championship is March 21.
Although that would give Trout only about a week back with the Angels before Opening Day on March 30, his plan is go all the way with Team USA.
“That’s the whole reason I signed up, trying to win this thing,” Troy said. “There’s nothing else. Anything else is a failure.”