Growing up in Millville, Mike Trout wore his Little League uniform to bed and probably dreamed of big-league moments such as the one that will happen this week.
Trout, the Los Angeles Angels center fielder and still Millville resident, will play for the first time against the team he grew up cheering for when the Angels meet the Philadelphia Phillies at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday and at 1:05 p.m. Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park.
He has so far played in Baltimore, Washington, New York and Boston, but never in Philadelphia. Trout’s Millville and South Jersey fans have anxiously waited for this week ever since the Phillies’ schedule was announced in the winter. Trout’s homecoming will be one of Major League Baseball’s biggest stories this week.
“It’s cool,” Trout, 22, said in an interview in Washington last month, “when you’re in the outfield or you’re on deck and you look up and you see some friends you haven’t seen in a while.”
The 2009 Millville High School graduate may recognize a good portion of Tuesday’s crowd, since it will be “Millville Night” at Citizens Bank Park.
Millville Deputy Mayor Jim Quinn said the town has sold about 4,000 tickets for Tuesday’s game. Millville’s population is 28,400, according to the 2010 Census. Many more people have bought tickets on their own. Quinn estimates that 6,000 people from Cumberland County will attend.
“This will be one of the most memorable nights in people’s lives,” Quinn said. “I’m sure 20 to 30 years from now, when Mike’s in the Hall of Fame, people will talk about the night they went to see Mike Trout at Citizens Bank Park.”
Trout’s homecoming is bound to be a whirlwind, with the Angels and the Phillies playing twice in less than 24 hours.
“Sometimes it gets a little overwhelming,” Trout said of playing close to home. “You want to see everybody and talk to everybody. But you have things to do. You have to prepare for the game.”
Trout arrives in Philadelphia as one of the game’s best.
In April, he signed a six-year, $144.5 million contract with the Angels that affirmed his status as one of the game’s top players. That money has its perks. He bought his mother a new Infiniti QX80 SUV (sticker price $62,700) for Mother’s Day.
Trout debuted in the majors on July 8, 2011 at the age of 19. In Trout’s first three seasons (2011-13), he hit more home runs (67) than Mickey Mantle (62) did in his first three seasons. Trout is batting .300 with six home runs and 19 RBIs this season.
“It’s pretty cool getting compared to Hall of Fame guys — Mantle,” Trout said. “Guys that I grew up watching play. Guys that I haven’t seen because I was born in 1991.”
Trout doesn’t bring attention to himself with flashy quotes.
He’s quiet in public and his father, Jeff, said his son has always been a person of few words. Growing up, Trout would get multiple hits and make spectacular catches in games. If his father missed the contest, he would ask Mike how he played — and get a one- or two-word response. Dad would have to find out the details of Mike’s exploits from others.
Back in high school, Trout often just said he was having fun playing baseball. He meant it. At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, Trout’s combination of speed and power wows fans all over the country. Trout routinely leaps over the fence to make a catch, hits long home runs and uses his speed to score from first base on hits other players wouldn’t even consider trying.
Baseball traditionalists love Trout’s game because he hustles on every play — something every modern-day superstar doesn’t do.
But before he became one of the biggest names in all of sports, Trout rooted for the Philadelphia professional teams just like the Millville residents who will sit in the Citizens Bank stands. He still holds season tickets for Philadelphia Eagles games.
Longtime Phillies fan
Trout didn’t have a ticket for Game 5 of the 2008 World Series. But that didn’t mean he was going to miss one of the biggest moments in Philadelphia sports history.
Trout, then a Millville High School senior, drove to Citizens Bank Park with his buddies. They tailgated in a parking lot outside the stadium and listened to the roars of the crowd as the Phillies won just the second World Series title in franchise history. Trout and his friends joined countless other fans and paraded down Broad Street toward Philadelphia’s City Hall to join the city’s celebration.
“The fans were crazy,” he said.
Chase Utley was Trout’s favorite Phillies player growing up. Trout also admired New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. His father Jeff took Mike to see both play in person multiple times. With Jeter retiring after this season, many in the media say Trout is the new face of baseball.
“Jeter and Utley were his two boys,” Jeff Trout said. “Two good role models.”
Trout has loved baseball from the time he first swung a bat. His mother Debbie said he slept in his uniform the night before games and refused to take it off no matter how dirty it got.
Trout was the 2008 and 2009 Press High School Baseball Player of the Year. He was The Press’ 2009 High School Male Athlete of the Year.
South Jersey roots
Although he plays on the West Coast in one of the most glamorous parts of the United States, Trout remains connected to Millville. He still spends his falls and winters in the Cumberland County town. He snuck into the press box at Millville’s Wheaton Field this past fall to watch the Millville High School football team play. His brother, Tyler, tweeted a picture of Trout wearing a headset that the coaches use to call plays.
Trout donated the $20,000 he won for being the 2012 American League Rookie of the Year to his high school baseball team.
Trout’s close connection with his hometown is seen in its residents, who show up whenever he plays within a reasonable driving distance.
Three generations of the Noblett family from Millville greeted Trout in Washington last month. There was Ron Sr., his sons Ron Jr. and Rick and grandson Tyler. Rick hunts, fishes and plays golf with Trout in the offseason.
The family had the good fortune to be on the field before the game. Trout emerged from the dugout and greeted them. They posed for a picture, when out of the corner of his eye Rick spotted renowned Angels slugger Albert Pujols.
“How about if Albert gets in the picture?” Rick asked half-jokingly to Trout.
Trout turned and asked Pujols to pose. The family soon had keepsake photos with two of baseball’s biggest stars.
“Who would do that (grab Pujols for a picture)?” Rick asked.
He then answered his own question.
“Mike,” he said.
‘Only one home’
Trout often makes times for fans before games, signing autographs along the foul lines after batting practice.
He’s also polite with the media, always giving a welcoming nod and smile to reporters who have known him since he was in high school. He’s more comfortable with reporters now than he was back then, talking before a recent news conference about the Philadelphia Eagles and good-naturedly teasing an Angels beat writer.
Although somewhat reserved in public, he shows his sense of humor with his friends. During a round of golf, he once gave all the money in his pocket to a high school buddy for belly-flopping into a huge puddle in a sand bunker.
The more famous Trout has become, the more off-the-field demands he’s had to deal with.
Before a 7:05 p.m. game in Washington last month, he took early batting practice at 2 p.m. He then played cards with teammates in the clubhouse until a television interview with ESPN and a news conference with local and visiting writers.
The next day, he participated in a photo shoot for Sports Illustrated and was on the cover of this week’s issue. Trout stars in national television commercials for Subway that aired during the Super Bowl.
The media is filled with reports of young athletes who are overwhelmed by fame and find trouble off the field. Trout has stayed out of the gossip columns and away from scandal.
“He’s very confident in his abilities and what he can do on the field,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “All the potential distractions out there — contract, going to a city and getting interviewed. Everyone wants to find out what makes Mike Trout tick. He’s handled it magnificently from his first day in the Major Leagues.”
Scioscia can identify with what Trout will experience this week. Scioscia, 55, grew up in Upper Darby, Pa. He attended countless Phillies games at Veterans Stadium growing up. Scioscia caught for the Dodgers in the 1980s and returned to Philadelphia to play the Phillies multiple times.
“When I went back, it won’t be the magnitude of what it will be when Mike Trout goes back,” Scioscia said. “I had so much fun with it. It sometimes is exhausting. You’re trying to take the couple of hours you have in the day to see your friends and family. It’s almost a relief when the game started.”
Scioscia called Trout and the Angels playing in Philadelphia a special event. He knows exactly why. No matter how famous Trout becomes or how many millions of dollars he makes, one thing will never change.
“You only have one home,” Scioscia said.
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