THE HALL OF FAME asked for Trevor Story's bat before he had ever taken a swing in his home ballpark. In fact, when Cooperstown called, the Rockies' 23-year-old rookie shortstop had never even participated in batting practice at Coors Field. "I told 'em no way," says Story. He sent his helmet and batting gloves to upstate New York. He kept the bat.
It was the same model as all his others, an Old Hickory ML1, 33 inches and 31½ ounces. But he knew there was something special about it the moment he touched it. "I'm really particular," he says. "Spring training, I was hitting BP with it. I was like, Oh, dang." After Story hit four home runs in his first eight exhibition games, Nolan Arenado, Colorado's All-Star third baseman, told him he needed to save the stick for when the games counted. "I took his advice," Story said. "I put it away and busted it out on Opening Night."
Story got his first career hit in the third inning against the Diamondbacks' new ace, Zack Greinke: a three-run bomb. The following inning, also against Greinke, Story had his second hit: a solo shot. He was the fifth player in major league history to go deep twice in his debut.
The next day in Arizona, Story hit another homer. The day after that, another. Two days later, when he finally played his first game in Denver, tragedy struck: The bat broke during his second plate appearance, though even that swing produced a jammed single and an RBI. "I was really attached to it, but it went down a soldier," Story says. With new lumber, he continued his barrage. He hit two more home runs that game, then another one two days later, thereby setting a major league record with seven in his team's first six games. As his manager, Walt Weiss, summarized, "He's been as good as anybody who's ever broke into the league, after a week. I think that's safe to say."
Until the season's first week Story had been a fairly anonymous minor leaguer. He probably still would be if Jose Reyes, the Rockies' incumbent, $22 million-a-year shortstop, hadn't been placed on administrative leave due to a domestic-violence investigation. (Though legal charges were dropped, an MLB suspension is likely, and Reyes's future with the Rockies is in doubt.) Colorado had long believed in Story's gifts—he was the 45th pick in 2011—but the scope of his first week in the majors proved a surprise. "I think everyone involved would be lying if we said we thought that Trevor Story would be sending articles of game-worn clothing to the Hall of Fame already," says general manager Jeff Bridich.
Story's narrative—and yes, he's heard every pun involving his surname—isn't new. An athletic shortstop who enters the league at a young age and immediately flashes high-end power or speed (or both) while seizing hold of his club's defensive leadership position? This has happened at least five times in the last few years. What Trevor Story did during his first week in the majors was to loudly announce his bid to become the sixth member of what had already been established as a golden generation for shortstops.
FOR MOST of baseball history you could pick out the shortstop as you watched a team file off the bus. He was the little guy. "You had a lot of 170-pound, slick-fielding switch-hitters," says Weiss. He would know. He was one of those himself, winning the AL Rookie of the Year award with the A's in 1988, when he batted .250 with three home runs and 39 RBIs. Story tied his skipper's season high of eight home runs in his 13th game, shattering an MLB record in the process.
The nascent generation of stars at the position comes from all over the map. Story is from Irving, Texas. The Dodgers' Corey Seager, the game's consensus top prospect, is from Kannapolis, N.C. The Cubs' Addison Russell, who permanently supplanted three-time All-Star Starlin Castro as Chicago's everyday shortstop last August, is from Pace, Fla. The Red Sox' Xander Bogaerts, the runner-up to Miguel Cabrera in the AL batting race last year with a .320 average, is from Aruba. The Astros' Carlos Correa and the Indians' Francisco Lindor—who finished one-two in last year's AL Rookie of the Year voting, though each played in just 99 games—hail from Puerto Rico.
Even so, the sextet has certain things in common. They were all born within a 23-month span, between 1992 and '94. Bogaerts, who turned 23 last October, is the oldest. They are almost all big, not just for shortstops but for anyone: Lindor, at 5' 11", is the only sub-6-footer, and both Correa and Seager stand 6' 4". And they all possess the type of all-around physical gifts that would have allowed them to succeed not just at any position on the diamond, but at almost any sport.
Those within the game offer several theories to explain their concurrent rise. A popular one—cue the sad trombone—is that it is just pure chance. The 1990s brought Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and Miguel Tejada. Now comes this group. "You know, the history of the world, life, a lot of times runs in cycles," says Logan White, who was the Dodgers' scouting director when the club picked Seager 18th in 2012. "It could be just one of those things where the cycle is right for it."
Still, says Dodgers G.M. Farhan Zaidi, who was a member of the A's front office when the club chose Russell seven slots ahead of Seager, "I think there are a couple of explanations, if you really want to try to make it out to be more than a fluke, which it very well may be."
One is that athletes in general are better than they were in the past, and better nurtured, and that the best of them can now play a formerly specialized position at a young age. While players who were simultaneously nimble enough to play short but strong enough to hit 30 homers were once an incongruous and almost mystical combination—with Cal Ripken Jr. as baseball's lonely centaur—this is not true anymore. "I think across the board, the players are better," says Dave Roberts, the Dodgers' first-year manager. "They're bigger, they're stronger, they're faster. It only makes sense you're going to see special young players coming up sooner."
"It could also be an improvement in player development around the game," says Zaidi. "You even look at something as small as nutrition. Teams are spending more money on food in minor league clubhouses. There's also a lot more support, on the field, off the field. Those supposedly can't-miss prospects, the first-round high school position players with tools and everything? It seems like teams do a better job of getting them from point A to point Z."
Another theory to explain the current rise of all-around shortstops is that in previous eras, many of them might not have reached the majors as shortstops at all. Our poststeroidal, power-starved age has increased clubs' tolerance for shortstops with bigger bodies who will allow teams to put more power on the field as long as they're adequate at the game's most important defensive position. (So far this year, though early in the season numbers can change fast, shortstops are averaging one homer every 42 at bats, which would be an all-time high.) While every member of the big six plays a smooth, and at times spectacular, shortstop, only Lindor is likely to win a Gold Glove. In another age most of the rest of them might have already been moved to third base. "With guys like Correa or even Seager, there might have been some temptation to move them off the position, because of where you think their bodies might be going," says Zaidi. "Now, while you think the guy can handle it, you want to be able to keep him in that premium position."
There is another factor at play too: Each of them has always wanted to be a shortstop, and will do whatever it takes to stick there. Correa and Seager, the largest players in the group, assiduously diet in order to stay at a weight—between 220 and 225 pounds for Seager, and exactly 218 for Correa—that allows them to meet the position's demands. "A lot of people told me, 'Oh, you're going to be a third baseman, you're going to be a pitcher,'" says Correa. "I'm like, I'm staying at shortstop."
Many of them also played other sports, and well. But each of them eventually gave everything else up not just to play baseball, but to play shortstop. Why? There was at least one shared reason.
THOUGH WEISS was a successful shortstop for 14 seasons, he was not one who captured children's imaginations. "Those poor kids!" Weiss jokes of what was likely a tiny delegation of Weiss wannabes. "Probably in therapy now."
Lindor points out that he and his fellow young shortstops were not produced from the same assembly line. Some of them, like Correa and, apparently, Story, have more power. Some, like Seager and Bogaerts, are likely to hit for higher averages. Some, like Lindor himself, have more speed. "We've all got different techniques, we've all got different styles," says Lindor. "That's a good thing for young kids. They can take something from every one of us and make it their own. That's what I did growing up: I picked something from everybody I liked."
The currently ascendant generation of shortstops had plenty of role models. "I was talking with Jimmy Rollins last year, and he said it used to always be about being in the outfield," says Garciaparra. "He said, 'You guys made shortstop sexy.'"
Still, among the late-1990s contingent that included Garciaparra, Rodriguez and Tejada, one always stood out, and redefined the star power of the position. He debuted in '95, when the current shortstops were still in onesies. In 2000, when they were in grade school, he won his fourth World Series. In '03, when they were elementary school, he was named the captain of the most successful franchise in American sports. In '09, when they were in high school, he won his fifth World Series. He dated singers, actresses and models. He did everything right, and was still one of the coolest guys in sports.
Jeter worship can get tiresome, especially for those who are older and jaded. For this young cohort, though, it never did. More than anyone else, he made shortstop their goal—more than third base, or centerfield, or football or basketball. At 6' 3", he transformed shortstop from a primarily defensive position to the most desirable one on the field.
"Jeter was my guy," says Story, the owner of a RE2PECT T-shirt. "Everybody wanted to be like him."
"He was a leader, he was the captain, he was great on and off the field," says Correa. "You want to be that guy." When he was a boy in Puerto Rico, Correa spent hours fielding grounders his father would hit him in the hole, practicing Jeter's patented jump throw over and over.
In the fall of 2001, nine-year-old Xander Bogaerts's parents allowed him and his twin brother, Jair, to stay up late to watch Game 4 of the Yankees' World Series against the Diamondbacks. Four minutes after midnight, on Nov. 1, Jeter hit a walk-off home run in the 10th inning. "That's probably one of the coolest things I've ever seen," Bogaerts says. "Are you kidding me? We went nuts."
"I didn't watch a lot of baseball, but I did watch a few shortstops," says Russell. "Jeter, for one."
None of them, however, loved Jeter as much as Seager, the youngest of three baseball-playing brothers. "Both my parents were from New York, so I grew up a Yankees fan," says Seager, who used a Jeter-model glove from age 12 through high school. When he and his brothers played in the backyard, they used to fight over which of them would assume the role of the Yankees' captain. When Jeter was 40, in 2014, he played in his 14th and final All-Star Game, in Minneapolis. It also happened to be the first for the oldest brother, Kyle, the Mariners' third baseman.
"My family was standing in the tunnel," recalls Corey, who was at the time already three years into his own pro career. "Jeter comes out, talks to pretty much everybody. My dad reaches out, wants to congratulate him on his career. Shakes his hand. I'm just staring at him. I was 20, but at that moment I was like a 10-year-old boy. I literally couldn't introduce myself to him. He walked away—dang it, I couldn't even say hey to the man.
"I still haven't met him," continues the top prospect in baseball. "Missed my opportunity. Only comes around once, sometimes."
An influence like Jeter might also only come around once. He was never the most singularly talented player of those in his generation. While statistical ledgers of Garciaparra, Rodriguez and Tejada are littered with bold fonts, signifying batting titles and home run titles and MVP awards, Jeter's is most notable for its length, though he did twice lead the majors in hits. During his 20 years, though, he won while avoiding the PED issues that complicated the legacies of Rodriguez and Tejada, and the injuries that shortened Garciaparra's career. And while Rodriguez and Garciaparra were no longer full-time shortstops by 2004, nor Tejada by 2010, Jeter, even at 6' 3", stayed there until the end. His career provided the model for future generations.
At 41, Jeter remains childless. In one sense, though, he might already have six sons, with more on the way.
ROCKIES, age 23
.253 / .296 / .667, 8 HRs (18 games)
Story broke the record for homers in a player's first six games of a season, held by Mike Schmidt, Larry Walker and Willie Mays.
ASTROS, age 21
.281 / .351 / .508, 25 HRs (117 games)
Correa had 22 doubles, 22 homers and 14 stolen bases in 99 games in 2015—as the majors' youngest position player.
DODGERS, age 21
.302 / .379 / .506, 6 HRs (45 games)
The consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball going into 2016, Seager shone last September with 33 hits in his first 27 games.
CUBS, age 22
.239 / .310 / .383, 15 HRs (159 games)
In 2015, Chicago went 59--48 (.551) before Russell took over at shortstop, on Aug. 7, and 38--17 (.690) after.
RED SOX, age 23
.281 / .327 / .394, 21 HRs (335 games)
After debuting at 20, Bogaerts struggled at times, but he came into his own last year with a .320/.355/.421 season.
INDIANS, age 22
.314 / .358 / .473, 13 HRs (115 games)
After a spectacular defensive performance, Lindor lost the 2015 Rookie of the Year Award by just four first-place votes.
Photographs by Greg Nelson (Correa); Michael J. LeBrecht II (Lindor); Garrett W. Ellwood (Seager)
FREDROCKO/GETTY IMAGES (BACKGROUND)
GOOD GLOVE, GOOD BAT Rising stars such as Correa (1), Lindor (12) and Seager (5) are positioning the major leagues for another Golden Age at the game's key position.
CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES
ROB TRINGALI/MLB PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES (CORREA)
BRAD MANGIN/MLB PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES (SEAGER)
JARED WICKERHAM/GETTY IMAGES (RUSSELL)
RICH GAGNON/GETTY IMAGES (BOGAERTS)
FRANK JANSKY/ICON SPORTSWIRE/AP (LINDOR)