By Phil Anastasia
As has become his routine, Mike Trout will do something remarkable on Saturday.
It's not just that Trout will agree to a six-year, $144.5 million contract extension with the Los Angeles Angels
It's not just that Trout will validate his status as the best player in baseball at the age of 22.
It's not just that Trout will position himself to become the highest-paid athlete in the history of North American team sports with his next deal.
It's that Trout will did all those things and also set free the imaginations of fans of his hometown team 3,000 miles away.
Go ahead, Phillies fans: Start dreaming of the pride of Millville High School in centerfield in Citizens Bank Park, beginning in 2021.
Cold water: Versatile as always, Trout did the same thing for fans of baseball's most fabled franchise, who now have license to envision Trout patrolling the same hallowed ground in new Yankees Stadium that Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle -- two legends to whom he can be compared, statistically and stylistically, with a straight face -- did in the old joint.
"The clock is ticking," said Millville coach Roy Hallenbeck, who guided Trout through his career at the Cumberland County school and remains a confidant of the superstar athlete. "Phillies fans, Yankees fans around here, they can all start thinking about Mike playing for their team."
The contract to which Trout agreed is astounding at first glance. I mean, the kid who just five springs ago was preparing to face Egg Harbor Township and Absegami in the Cape Atlantic League will be making an average of $24 million a year when the deal begins in 2015.
But the contract was a compromise. The Angels no doubt preferred to lock up the face of their franchise for 10 or 12 or 15 years -- and probably would have been willing to pony up an average of $30 to $35 million a year to make that happen.
Trout clearly wanted the opportunity to become a free agent in the prime of his career. The length of the new deal means that Trout won't yet be 30 when it expires in 2020.
Assuming he stays healthy and continues to put up numbers that rival the work of inner-circle Hall of Famers, Trout will be in line for the mother of all paydays in his next contract -- a mega-deal that could jack his career earnings above half-a-billion dollars.
"It doesn't register," Hallenbeck said of Trout's new deal. "You sit here as a coaching staff and remember this kid who played here just a little while ago and it just doesn't make sense."
Here's the thing: Although there will be an imperative from the players association and his peers for Trout to get as much money as possible in his next deal, the bottom line will not be his primary motivation.
He will be looking to play for a team that will regularly compete for division, league and World Series titles.
If that team happens be on the East Coast, great.
If it happens to share parking lots and fan bases with his favorite NFL team, maybe even better.
In August, Trout sat in a restaurant across the street from the Empire State Building after taking Hallenbeck and the Millville players to the 86th Floor Observatory for a ceremony to mark the naming of Mike Trout Field at his old high school and talked about his frustration over the Angels' struggles in his first two full seasons.
"I don't want to talk for Mike," Hallenback said. "But I can vouch for that. Mike wants to win.
"Every time I've talked to him he's certainly happy with his life and proud of what he's done but he's miserable about the losing.
"He can go 4-for-4 and make All-Star teams, but what he wants to do most of all is win."
So go ahead, Phillies fans, and do something else: View your team's actions in the next five years -- draft picks, development of young players, trades, free-agent acquisitions, wins and losses -- in this new context.
Thanks in large part to their new television deal, Phillies likely will be one of the few teams with the resources to sign Mike Trout in 2021.
But their only real hope of bringing him home will be to have a team for which he wants to play.
-- Contact Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org
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