NEW YORK — Mike Trout took the Millville High School baseball team to the top of one of the world’s most famous skyscrapers Monday morning.
It was just another head-shaking, awe-inspiring experience for the Millville baseball community since Trout became one of Major League Baseball’s best players.
Trout, 22, and the Thunderbolts visited the 86th floor observatory deck of the Empire State Building to celebrate the remodeling and the renaming of the high school’s baseball field. Trout, a 2009 Millville graduate, now stars for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Trout and BODYARMOR sports drink teamed up to renovate the Millville field last winter.
“For me, to give back is something special,” Trout said. “It seems like yesterday I played my last high school game. Millville is home. I always want to give back when I can. It’s special for me and special for them.”
Trout walked onto the deck of the observatory deck, looked down and then shook his head.
“It was a different feeling going up the elevators,” he said. “I’m not scared of heights that much, but being up there was a little weird.”
The players and Trout posed for pictures. They even downed a few sports drinks for the cameras. Tourists, many of them from other countries, looked on and took video with their cell phones. Many wanted to know which one was the famous baseball player.
Someone asked Mike’s father, Jeff, what was the tallest building in Millville.
“Probably the press box (at Wheaton Field where Millville plays football),” he said with a laugh.
The dedication ceremony couldn’t be held in Millville because of Trout’s schedule. To do something special, BODYARMOR held the event at one of New York’s iconic landmarks. Trout is in New York because the Angels began a three-game series with the New York Yankees on Monday night.
“It was a great idea,” Trout said of the visit to the historic building. “It’s great to see the city and spend time with everybody.”
The Thunderbolts made of a day of it. Millville head baseball coach Roy Hallenbeck, his assistant coaches and 14 players left Millville at 6:45 a.m. They planned to visit the 9/11 Memorial in lower Manhattan and then watch Trout play the Yankees.
The Thunderbolts were easy to spot. They wore bright orange shirts (the school’s colors are blue and orange).
“It’s easy to do a head count,” Hallenbeck said with a laugh.
Many of the Thunderbolts had never visited New York or had been there just once as youngsters. It was hard to say what was more important to the players — seeing the sites of New York or meeting Trout.
“I saw him a lot when I was younger, but I don’t know him that much,” Millville junior Omar Moore said.
Trout walked into the lobby of the Empire State Building with his parents. He greeted his old coaches and then shook hands with all the players, many of whom had looks of awe.
“The past few years our players were teammates of his,” Hallenbeck said. “It was hard to look at him as a superstar. But these kids don’t know him personally. When he turned the corner, they were taken aback a bit.”
Emilio Santiago, who graduated from Millville last June, wore No. 1 for the Thunderbolts last spring. That was Trout’s high school number.
“This is awesome,” Santiago said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You see a lot of athletes make it big and they don’t come back to their hometown. Mike is a hometown kid.”
Since Trout left Millville, his coaches and former teammates have been to the studios of the Major League Baseball Network to watch him get drafted. They’ve been to All-Star Games and to California to watch him play. They’ve seen Trout play in famous stadiums such as Fenway Park in Boston and Camden Yards in Baltimore.
“It’s hard to describe,” Hallenbeck said of the experience. “You just sit back and enjoy it.”
Trout emerged as one of baseball’s best players last season. This season he’s only gotten better. He began Monday’s game among the league leaders in batting average (.330), hits (147), runs (82) and stolen bases (26).
BODYARMOR, a sports drink Trout endorses, gave $10,000, and did all the work on the field. Trout donated the $20,000 bonus he received for being the American League Rookie of the Year last season to the project.
“We asked Mike what his charitable interests are and the first thing that came out of his mouth was that he wanted to give back to Millville,” said Mike Fedele, BODYARMOR’s director of marketing.
The renovations included a new batting cage, infield sod, the reconstruction of home plate and the pitching mound and the painting of the dugouts. The Millville Board of Education voted last winter to rename the field after Trout.
But to the Millville players and coaches the thought that Trout wanted to do something for them is what counts most.
“Grass dies and paint chips,” Hallenbeck said. “Eventually all these things will have to be done again. But the important thing is Mike wanted to do this. That’s never going to go away. Long down the road, we’re going to look back and that’s what we’re going to remember.”
Chances are they’ll also remember the view from the top of New York City.
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