Mike Trout played for Millville High School in 2009.
He took mid-terms, went to prom and rode the team bus to fields all over South Jersey. His most memorable home run was against Oakcrest.
Three years later, Trout takes chartered flights. He plays in Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park. His most memorable plays are chronicled on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.” And today, he’s expected to be named the American League Rookie of the Year.
Despite all that, the 21-year-old Los Angeles Angels center fielder has not changed in the past three years, those close to him say. He still lives at his parents’ home in Millville.
But Trout’s success has led to unique experiences for people around the area with unique connections to the megastar.
Former coaches and teammates at Millville have experienced the life of a celebrity during trips this summer. Former high school opponents proudly tell the story of the day they turned a double play on Trout or hit him with a pitch. And those who share his last name — related or not — are almost celebrities themselves.
“What’s neat about it is you realize how fortunate we were,” said longtime Millville baseball coach Roy Hallenbeck. “Because had Mike gone to another school, he’d still be where he was, and some other coaching staff would be going to the All-Star game and going to California. So we were pretty lucky that (Trout’s parents) Jeff and Deb settled in Millville and brought their kids through the system.”
Drawing a crowd
Hallenbeck took his family — wife, Kim, and children Kevin, 11, and Megan, 9 — to Los Angeles twice this summer to see Trout. They also went to the All-Star game in Kansas City, Mo.
The kids got to stand in the Angels’ family area after one of the games and see players such as nine-time All-Star Albert Pujols walk by.
When Hallenbeck went to dinner with Trout’s family, it felt like old times — until people started coming over to ask for autographs and pictures.
“I never thought I’d be at an All-Star game and then sitting at dinner afterward with an All-Star and having other All-Stars come over to the table and say hello,” said Hallenbeck, 41, of Millville. “I mean, as a baseball fan, you just sit there and shake your head and try to figure out what’s going on. How did we end up here?”
Bobby Fabrizi had a similar experience when he and three other former Millville teammates — Efren Fernandez and brothers Jon and Dan McMahon — spent nine days in Los Angeles in July. They got to go on the field before one of Trout’s games and hang out with him around town.
“It’s weird just to see people go crazy over seeing him,” said Fabrizi, a 22-year-old who works as a mason and is a mixed martial arts fighter in the Cage Fury Fighting Championships. “We joke with him all the time about stuff like that.”
Back home, Trout has gone hunting, fishing and golfing with his high school buddies. He’s just a regular guy — albeit a guy whose major-league salary allows him to do things such as pay off a bet to a friend who swam around a pond at White Oaks Country Club in Newfield.
“When he’s around here, it’s just like any other time,” Fabrizi said.
Stories from the past
Trout’s impact isn’t limited to those who get to spend extended amounts of time with him.
Former Mainland Regional High School pitcher Mike DeCicco still tells the story of when he hit Trout with a pitch in 2009. The 20-year-old Northfield resident even wrote about it in a blog, “The Line Drive.”
“Usually everyone thinks it’s a great story,” DeCicco said.
DeCicco admits he hit Trout on purpose out of frustration. At the time, a fight almost broke out. But DeCicco eventually became one of Trout’s biggest fans, purchasing a minor-league TV package to follow him from the start of his pro career.
This summer, DeCicco went to an Angels-Padres game in San Diego. He got there two hours early.
“I was thinking about what I would say to him if I saw him in the outfield, if I was going to say, ‘Yo, man, I hit you!’” DeCicco said. “All my friends and my dad were like, ‘You’ve got to say something. Give him your card.’ But I didn’t say anything. I said a little shout-out, like, ‘From leading off for the ’Bolts to leading off for the Angels.’ But that was it. I was too scared.”
Vaughn Champion, an 18-year-old Galloway Township resident, still tells the story of the day he helped turn a double play on Trout — believed to be the only one Trout hit into in his senior year.
Trout is one of the fastest players in the majors, but Hallenbeck said that in high school, “No one was even close.”
A freshman second baseman for Absegami at the time, Champion said Trout hit “probably the hardest ball I’ve ever fielded in my life.” Champion flipped it underhand to shortstop Billy Guerro at second, and Guerro completed the relay to first to get Trout.
“It’s definitely crazy because so many things go on in your high school career, and just one moment can stick out like that,” Champion said.
The stories get better the farther away they are told. Champion is a freshman on the Wagner College baseball team in Staten Island, N.Y. DeCicco is a junior at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and briefly played for the club team there.
“Some people are amazed I even played against Trout, let alone turned a double play against him,” Champion said. “It’s something that I’ll always feel good about telling people, that I played against Mike Trout, because not many people can say that they played against guys that are in the major leagues, let alone as good as he is.”
Name’s the same
One former Millville softball star has never even met Trout, but she gets asked about him constantly.
Kristin Trout, a three-time Press All-Star, said her grandmother has told her they are distantly related to Mike. He was three years ahead of her in school.
“I remember the first time was in fifth grade and somebody asked me,” said Kristin, now an 18-year-old freshman at Alvernia University in Reading, Pa. “At that time, I didn’t even know who he was. And they were like, ‘Oh, he’s your brother?’ And I was like, ‘No. I don’t even know who Mike Trout is.’”
Kristin said it used to get on her nerves sometimes. But not anymore.
“When I was younger it did, because he wasn’t as big,” she said. “But now that he’s older and I’m older, it’s really cool, I guess.”
It’s even cooler for his actual brother.
Tyler Trout, a 24-year-old law student at Rutgers-Camden, has gone to see Mike play at places such as Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium. Next year, he plans to go see the Angels at Wrigley Field.
“It’s crazy in that I get to do things and experience things that I never thought I’d be doing, so rapidly and so quickly,” said Tyler, who has developed quite the following on Twitter because of his brother, with nearly 2,800 followers.
Tyler said the one experience that stands out above the rest was at a private breakfast during the All-Star game festivities for all the players and their families.
“Having (Atlanta Braves star) Chipper Jones come up to the table with his kids and say, ‘Mike, I just have to meet you. My kids have to meet you.’ It’s those experiences that are surreal,” Tyler said.
At least Jones talked to the right Trout. Tyler said he gets confused for his brother frequently, including recently when they went to Atlantic City to celebrate the birthday of Trout’s girlfriend, Jessica Cox.
“It was really late at night,” Tyler said. “We had just got off one of the tables on the casino floor, and somebody came running up to me, ‘Congratulations! Really nice to meet you!’ This, that and the other. And I’m looking at him, and I’m really not sure what’s going on because Mike was actually standing two feet from me. He was literally right next to me. And the guy’s sitting there and he’s talking to me.”
Tyler doesn’t mind, though. If someone confuses him for Mike, he politely corrects them. If they want to talk about Mike, he usually obliges, no matter how busy he is.
“It’s kind of like an honor that they’re following him,” Tyler said.
Even for those closest to Trout, it’s hard to believe sometimes how quickly it all happened.
Hallenbeck remembers him as a freshman, when Trout moved to second base because Tim Ahlquist was entrenched at shortstop for Millville.
“The only thing that really jumped out then was how fast (Trout) was,” Hallenbeck said. “He was just a little contact guy. He wasn’t very big.”
Eventually it became apparent that Trout was good enough to play in college. He committed to East Carolina University.
ECU coach Billy Godwin went to one of Millville’s games and watched along with several major-league scouts as Trout hit an inside-the-park homer on a ball that landed in front of the center fielder.
“He walks past,” Hallenbeck said, “and he’s shaking his head. And we’re like, ‘What’s up, Billy?’ He’s like, ‘(Shoot), that’s the best high school player I’ve ever seen. He ain’t coming to East Carolina.’ He says, ‘I’ll see you later.’ He went in his car and went home.”
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