It was the Angels’ home opener April 7. Mike Trout blasted a 441-foot home run. He flipped his bat and trotted around the bases. Waiting at the top of the dugout steps for Trout was Brett Phillips, holding an ornate, navy-and-gold headpiece.
Trout recognized what it represented, took off his batting helmet and let the home run celebration helmet be placed on his head.
By now, fans have become familiar with the Angels’ home run celebration headpiece, a samurai warrior helmet, known as a kabuto. The Angels have taken it wherever they have gone this season and it has made a celebration appearance 109 times heading into Tuesday night’s home game against the White Sox. The Angels have hit 116 home runs this season, seven predating the kabuto, ranking fourth in Major League Baseball and second in the American League.
The Angels’ kabuto was picked out by Shohei Ohtani and introduced to the team as a surprise during the first homestand of the year and one year after the Angels used Trout’s cowboy hat to celebrate homers. It’s become so popular, the apparel company RotoWear designed T-shirts featuring the Angels’ kabuto. And fans have also shown up to games sporting paper kabutos on their heads.
The Japanese company that manufactured the helmet, Marutake Industry, has been so overwhelmed by kabuto inquiries that it made a separate website for overseas orders. Marutake also created a second Angels kabuto, completing a samurai warrior ensemble as a thank-you and donated it to the Angels ahead of the team’s Japanese heritage night Tuesday at Angel Stadium.
The kabuto, a symbol of the strength of the Angels’ offense this season, is also a display of Japanese culture.
“They’re very honored that the Angels and Shohei have been using the kabuto,” Yuma Ogawa, a representative of Katchu Kobo Marutake, said in Japanese through an interpreter, “and that they’re able to share Japanese culture through this, not just to the U.S., but to the world.”
As for the Angels, the kabuto has been there for several key moments and milestones, either perched on a sculpture of a skull (named Mr. Fidgets) with a dugout-level view, or placed on the head of the next Angels batter who hits a homer.
Trout wore the kabuto in the dugout in Denver after his home run Saturday gave him 1,100 career runs, an Angels record. Ohtani had it on as he received high-fives in the dugout after he hit his 201st combined professional home run (between MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball league) Monday in Anaheim.
The kabuto has been there for six Troutani moments — when Ohtani and Trout have homered in the same game — out of seven total this season. It’s also been there for two back-to-back-back home run games this season, the first in Anaheim and the second in Denver on Saturday, when the kabuto went for a spin five times in a 25-run game for the Angels.
It was there for Hunter Renfroe’s first home run of the season, at Angel Stadium on April 8. Mr. Fidgets was broken before the kabuto was handed to Renfroe and some of the players thought it was the kabuto that was damaged (the kabuto is made of metal, so it’s pretty sturdy and heavy). It was there when Mickey Moniak homered the day he was called up to the big leagues May 13, coincidentally his birthday.
The home run, though a big piece of the Angels’ offense — hasn’t been their only notable mark at the plate. Before Tuesday’s game, the Angels ranked in the top 10 in MLB in runs (sixth with 399), hits (sixth with 704), runs batted in (sixth with 386), walks (seventh with 271), batting average (ninth at .259) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (fourth at .775).
“We have a deep lineup,” Trout said. “Obviously a couple guys are banged up right now, but even the guys coming up right now like Mickey, just filling in nice.”
Entering Tuesday, Ohtani led the majors with 26 home runs. Trout was in a three-way tie for sixth in the AL with 17. Brandon Drury and Renfroe have 13 and 12 home runs, respectively, while Taylor Ward has nine homers and Moniak has seven.
“You got guys like Sho and Mike and Fro and everybody known for hitting homers,” Moniak said, “but then you got us young guys who are coming up and don’t necessarily have the track record. I think that we’re just being able to show what we can do as a team and I think we got a really dangerous lineup from top to bottom, even the bench.”
Added Angels hitting coach Marcus Thames: “These guys are really talented. Just get them to believe in their work.”