CLEARWATER, Fla. -- As the Phillies build for a better day and team officials promise that, yes, they will spend big dollars on top talent once they have a winning foundation in place, images of Mike Trout hitting in the middle of the order and running down balls at Citizens Bank Park fill the imagination.
Phillies fans have a natural obsession with baseball's best player. He grew up just down the road in Millville, New Jersey and still lives there in the offseason. He grew up a Phillies fan and as a teen was in the parking lot tailgating with friends the night the Phils won the World Series in 2008. His love of the Eagles is well documented. He and Carson Wentz are buds.
Go ahead and admit it. You fantasize about one day hearing Dan Baker bellow, "Batting third and playing center field for the Phillies, Mike Trout."
For Howie Kendrick and Cesar Ramos, two new Phillies players, Trout is not some fantasy off in the distance. They were both teammates of the young superstar during their time with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. They had a nightly front row seat in witnessing Trout's greatness, and they are here to tell you it's as good as you see on the TV highlights and on the stat sheets.
Maybe even better.
"Mike's awesome," said Kendrick, who played with Trout in Anaheim from 2011 to 2014. "He's the best player in the game of baseball, and I don't think there's even a question about that. You ask everyone in this locker room or around the league and they will tell you that's the guy.
"I have so much respect for Mike not only for what he does on the field but for the person he is. He is so down to earth. And for a guy of that status that says a lot. He's great with his family. He treated my kids so well around the locker room. He's great with the fans. He's been the same guy since Day 1."
At 25, Trout already has played five full seasons in the majors. He has won the American League MVP award twice and finished second each of the other three seasons, twice to Miguel Cabrera and once to Josh Donaldson. He has been an American League All-Star all five seasons and won the Rookie of the Year award in 2012.
"You'll see something amazing just about every day out of him," said Kendrick, who joined the Phillies in a November trade with the Dodgers and will play left field for the club. "That's just who he is."
Ramos, a lefty reliever, signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies in January and is a candidate to win a spot in the team's bullpen. He spent the 2015 season with the Angels and had a 2.92 ERA in 65 games.
Ramos has been exposed to greatness in his baseball career. He played with Evan Longoria and Troy Tulowitzki at Long Beach State University. In fact, the three were roommates and high picks in the draft; Tulowitzki and Ramos went seventh and 35th overall, respectively, in 2005, and Longoria went third overall in 2006. Tulowitzki and Longoria have eight All-Star games and four Gold Gloves between them.
No glimpse of greatness resonates with Ramos more than the season he spent as Trout's teammate.
"As a person and a player he's everything you'd want," Ramos said. "He's unbelievable to watch. They don't build them like that. He's a great teammate.
"The coolest thing was to watch him play every day. And every single day it's the same player -- talent, effort, everything is full speed. Groundball to short, it's bang-bang … watching him climb the wall -- incredible."
A simple Internet search reveals highlights of Trout climbing the outfield wall like Spiderman in baseball pants to rob home runs.
There was the one on J.J. Hardy in Baltimore in 2012 when even a disbelieving Trout sneaked a glance at the video board to make sure it was real.
And then there was the one in Anaheim on Seattle's Jesus Montero in 2015. Trout's body rose halfway above the wall to snatch that one.
"That's out Number 1," the gushing broadcaster shouted.
"He should get four or five outs for that play," the color man raved.
Ramos doesn't need to watch the video. He saw the real thing up close.
"Montero hit the ball 15 feet over the wall and Mike climbs the wall and is waiting for it," Ramos said. "We were in the bullpen watching it and no one was surprised."
Trout is signed for four more seasons at more than $120 million. Barring an extension, he will hit the free-agent market after the 2020 season. He will be just 29.
If Trout hits the market, you can be sure the Phillies will be connected to him. They've already been mentioned as a potential landing spot if the Angels ever decided to trade Trout. It would take a mother lode of talent to get him. But he might just be worth it.
"He’s just a freak of nature," Ramos said.