He'll never admit it, but Mike Trout is contagious.
It's nothing that requires his teammates to wear masks or to keep their distance. Trout has sparked the Angels, from the depths of the American League West to the precipice of potential postseason play. His enthusiasm has spread throughout the Angels' roster like a fever.
Two months have changed everything.
On a chilly, 43-degree morning on April 28, Trout sat in the visitor's clubhouse at Progressive Field in Cleveland, minding his business and keeping quiet like the rest of his teammates. The only peeps in the room came from players answering reporters' questions about what was ailing the Angels, who were a woeful 6-14 at the time.
Trout flew cross-country the night before to join the club in time for its Saturday matinee against the Indians. He was hitting .403 in 20 games for Triple-A Salt Lake. Manager Mike Scioscia, searching far and wide for solutions for his scuffling offense, wasted no time in penciling the 20-year-old outfielder into the leadoff spot.
The rest is history. The slow start is now a distant memory.
Scioscia's bunch completed an 18-11 May and 17-9 June to smooth over the rocky April.
"We're actually the same team, but the mood has changed a little bit because we're winning," said Trout, who toted an AL-leading .348 average and 26 stolen bases into Friday's series opener vs. the Orioles.
"A little bit" is an understatement; the mood swing has been as clear as day. The sullen, reserved clubhouse demeanor has given way to an upbeat, lively atmosphere.
On Tuesday, a group of Angels players gathered around the TV in the clubhouse as a few players squared off in a soccer video game. As one player scored a goal, Trout, about to take a bite of a sandwich, dropped his food, stood up and unleashed a loud scream. The handful of players sitting with him on the couch followed his lead and hollered and celebrated as if the Angels had won the World Series.
"We love him," right fielder Torii Hunter, 36, said of Trout. "He's like one of our little brothers."
It has been a cycle. Trout's passion for the game has fueled his on-field performance, which has aided the Angels' resurgence, making for a happier ballclub. But who would have imagined that a lineup containing the likes of Hunter, Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo would need a 20-year-old catalyst to salvage what once appeared destined to be a forgettable season?
"It's a pleasant surprise only with the fact that you see very few guys come up and do this much," Scioscia said. "Is it surprising that Mike Trout's talent is able to produce what's happening on the field? No, that's not a surprise. He's an extraordinary talent. ... You go back probably 50 years and you can count the guys on one hand that came up at such a young age and had this much of an impact on the team."
It isn't surprising to Trout, despite the fact that he was in high school just three years ago. He said those days feel like "a long time ago." Then again, so does April.
In a span of two months, as the Angels have climbed up the AL West standings, Trout has garnered a pair of Rookie of the Month Award honors, a trip to the 2012 All-Star Game next week in Kansas City and premature consideration for the AL Most Valuable Player Award.
"To a lot of people, it is surprising," Trout said, "but to myself, I set high expectations. I know my ability and I try to keep playing hard."
Hunter got his Major League feet wet at a young age as well. He made his big league debut at 22 on a Twins squad stocked with veterans such as Paul Molitor, Terry Steinbach, Bob Tewksbury and Rick Aguilera. Hunter made sure to pick their brains. He said Trout is the same.
"He always asks questions," Hunter said. "He's like one of those little kids in the back seat saying, 'Are we there yet? Are we there yet?' That's Trout, and all he does is pick up information and try to figure it out. He asks all the guys who have been around questions, and he's taking heed to it, and it shows on the field."
Trout's logic is simple. He doesn't spend his time glossing over his gaudy numbers. The Millville, N.J., native said he'll step back and grasp what he has accomplished once the offseason arrives. For now, Trout prefers to live in the moment.
"Coming to the ballpark, the only things on my mind are competing, having fun and winning games," he said.
That formula appears to have been infectious.
"He smiles all the time and has a lot of fun," Hunter said. "He's like a big kid in the candy store right now."