Thursday, December 25, 2014

Baseball: A special homecoming for Trout

Baseball: A special homecoming for Trout

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By Phil Anastasia

On Mike Trout’s most memorable visit to Citizens Bank Park, he never made it inside the stadium.

Trout was a senior at Millville High School on October 29, 2008. He and a few of his buddies hung in the parking lot with thousands of other ticket-less tailgaters while the Phillies won the World Series with a 4-3 victory over Tampa Bay in Game 5.

Trout is star centerfielder for the Los Angeles Angels. He is the cover boy in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated magazine, which proclaims him “The Best . . .” player in the sport.

Trout returns to South Philadelphia Tuesday night as a young man far removed from the wide-eyed schoolboy who joined the impromptu parade up Broad Street on that unforgettable night in Philadelphia sports history.

“We walked to City Hall,” after the Phillies’ victory, Trout said. “The fans were crazy."

The Angels’ two-game, inter-league series with the Phillies will be a whirlwind of a homecoming for Trout, as well as a milestone moment for Millville, a sprawling community in rural Cumberland County about 40 miles from Philadelphia.

“Three,” Millville High School coach Roy Hallenbeck joked about the number of people who will be left in the town on Tuesday night, while everybody else makes the drive up Rt. 55 and across the Walt Whitman Bridge to see their favorite son take on his former favorite team.

There's a buzz of anticipation around Trout's return because of his status in the sport. He was the American League's Rookie of the Year in 2012 and was runner-up for the league's Most Valuable Player award in both 2012 and 2013.

Because of his speed and power, Trout has been compared to legendary New York Yankees outfieler Mickey Mantle.

"I never saw Mickey Mantle," Kansas City Royals scout Jim Fregosi Jr. said. "He (Trout) is a unique player because you don't see that combination of power and speed.

"He's not some skinny kid who is fast. He is a power runner. Everything he does has power to it."

The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Trout, who will be 23 in August, grew up a Phillies’ fan, although he also had a soft spot for the Yankees because of his admiration for Derek Jeter.

“I was an Utley fan,” Trout said of Phillies’ second baseman Chase Utley. “And (Jimmy) Rollins of course because I was a shortstop.”

Mike's father, Jeff Trout, played minor-league baseball but gave up the sport to teach and coach in Millville. He used to take his youngest son to Phillies’ and Yankees’ games.

“All the time,” Jeff Trout said. “Jeter and Utley were his boys -- two good role models."

In his two-plus seasons in the majors, Mike Trout has played before hometown fans who made their way to games in Baltimore, New York and Washington. His parents, retired teachers Jeff and Debbie, attend most of his games, and he is used to seeing familiar faces when he plays on the East Coast.

But this will be different.

Phillies' officials have confirmed that the town of Millville has sold around 4,000 tickets for Tuesday night's game. Hundreds of other fans from South Jersey are likely to have purchased tickets on their own.

The event will be "Millville Night" in the stadium with mayor Michael Santiago throwing out the first pitch, the Millville High School band performing before the game and the school's choral ensemble singing the national anthem.

Hallenback, his assistant coaches, some other school officials and the Millville varsity will be sitting in centerfield.

"It's cool when you're on deck or in the outfield and you look up and see somebody that you know," Trout in an interview last month in Washington.

Trout will have little time to spend with family and friends. The Angels will play the Phillies twice in the span of 17 hours and then will fly to Los Angeles.

"Sometimes it gets a little overwhelming," Trout said of playing games 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."

Angels manager Mike Scioscia can relate. He attended high school in Upper Darby, Pa., and returned to play against the Phillies as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“When I went back it wasn’t 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 starts.”

Trout recently signed a six-year, $144.5 million contract extension. Scioscia said nothing -- not fortune, not fame -- has changed the athlete who has become the face of baseball at the age of 22.

"He's the same," Scioscia said. "He has handled everything -- the contract, going to cities, getting interviews -- magnificantly since Day 1 in the major leagues."

Trout has never played a game in Citizens Bank Park. He was there for a pre-draft workout early in June, 2009, just a few days before the Angels made him the 25th pick in the first round.

Trout attended the workout even though the Phillies didn't have a first-round pick and it was widely assumed he would be selected long before his hometown team would make its initial selection.

"He said he wanted to be there out of respect," said Cherry Hill West coach Dan McMaster, an associate Phillies' scout who was there that day.

On Tuesday night, Trout will be back in town. Just five years after he was batting against pitchers in the Cape-Atlantic League, he will face the Phillies as one of the most acclaimed athletes in the country.

But there still probably will be something special about his first big-league game in the park that hosts his former favorite team.

As Scioscia notes, “You only have one home.”

-- Contact Phil Anastasia at panastasia@phillynews.com

-- Follow @PhilAnastasia on Twitter

 

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About this blog
Born and raised in South Jersey, Phil Anastasia prefers standing on the sidelines at high school football games on Friday nights to sitting in the press box at Eagles games on Sunday afternoons. He’s a graduate of Rowan University with a degree in English. Reach Phil at panastasia@phillynews.com.

Phil Anastasia Inquirer Columnist
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