Trout returns to Philly on other side of fence
Millville native has debut at Citizens Bank in front of thousands from home community
PHILADELPHIA -- Mike Trout isn't normally one for introspection, or for savoring moments, or for spending much time pondering the significance of his fame or his feats or even his following.
But the moment got to him on Tuesday evening.
It was the top of the first, Trout's name was announced, and the 8,000 or so people who made the 45-minute pilgrimage from South New Jersey to cheer their hometown hero sparked the type of roar that opponents never get in this cutthroat city. So Trout dug his right foot into the dirt, stepped away, breathed out, nodded his head, looked at his bat, exhaled deeply one last time and took a little longer than usual to settle into the batter's box.
"It was a special moment for me -- a real special moment," Trout said after the Angels had locked down a 4-3 win. "It was unbelievable. I wanted to take it in a little longer and thank the fans. It means a lot to me, my family. I wanted to thank them. It gave me chills to have an opposing team support me like that. It was an awesome feeling."
Trout, a fan of all Philadelphia teams growing up, had recalled earlier how he would go to Eagles games, and how, "If I saw someone with a different jersey on, they were getting booed." So his first at-bat Tuesday night resonated with him, even though it ended in a routine groundout and kick-started an uneventful 1-for-5 showing at the plate.
"Lot of things going through my mind," Trout said. "Excited, anxious, chills -- a feeling you can't really explain. You feel welcomed. It's an unbelievable feeling. I wanted to take it in as much as I can."
A ballpark that had averaged 29,605 fans this season got an announced attendance of 41,959 during what was officially deemed "Millville Night."
About 4,000 Millville, N.J., residents made up the 400 section behind home plate, thousands of others from greater Cumberland County were sprinkled throughout the ballpark and about 15 buses were reserved for the trip. Millville Deputy Mayor Jim Quinn, who organized the event with the Phillies, called it "the biggest event this city has ever had."
Trout tailgated for Game 5 of the 2008 World Series and marched down Broad Street when the Phillies finished off the Rays to clinch a championship. He went to a handful of games at the now-defunct Veterans Stadium. He grew up admiring Chase Utley. And he played in a pre-Draft showcase at Citizens Bank Park just before being taken by the Angels with the 25th overall selection in 2009, four years before he established himself as arguably the best all-around player in baseball.
"Life's definitely changed a lot," Trout said. "It's gone quick, though. I've been having fun."
"He plays that style of baseball that they will appreciate here," said Raul Ibanez, a former Phillies outfielder. "He's really aggressive, plays 100 percent. Everything he does is 100 percent. If he flies out or grounds out, he's going hard all the time. He grew up watching this team and watching some of those guys over there. He's a great kid and obviously a superstar talent, but he plays like his hair is on fire all the time."
The Angels' charter landed in Philadelphia at about 2 a.m. ET Tuesday morning, and Trout spent the night at his parents' house. He kept his phone on silent and slept in -- which means he missed watching Eagles practice with teammates Michael Kohn and Grant Green -- then caught up with some family members, ate a burger from his favorite lunch spot and made his way to Philadelphia for his first Major League game at Citizens Bank Park.
Pregame, Trout held a press conference in front of roughly 100 media members. At about 5:30 p.m., 90 minutes before first pitch, hundreds of fans dressed in Angels jerseys and Millville T-shirts scampered down to the lower level and settled in behind the third-base dugout, crowding the first 10 rows from behind home plate all the way down the left-field line. Shortly after that, Millville High's varsity baseball team came on the field to watch batting practice.
Mayor Michael Santiago of Millville threw out the ceremonial first pitch. The Millville High marching band performed on the field. The school's choral ensemble sang the national anthem.
"People are really pumped up about this," former Millville Mayor Tim Shannon said of the buzz in his city. "This is the closest Mike's ever been since he's been a Major Leaguer. We've seen him in New York; we've seen him in D.C.; we've seen him in Baltimore. Philadelphia? Right across the bridge? Please. Philadelphia's our team."
As manager Mike Scioscia was wrapping up his pregame meeting with reporters, Trout grabbed his hamstring, told his manager, "I don't think I can go today," then ran off laughing.
Trout was in good spirits, even while riding a 7-for-48 slump that had his batting average down to .270. Scioscia, also with roots in the Philadelphia area, said he "bounced some things off" Trout before they arrived from Toronto, to make sure his young superstar was in the right frame of mind heading into a two-game set when so much of the focus would be on him.
"It's just a matter of, 'You're going to be fine, enjoy it,'" Scioscia said before the game. "Mike knows what's important. He doesn't need anyone to tell him what's important. He's going to rally around playing the game of baseball. He's going to focus on the game. All the other stuff, as far as the media and fans, he'll take that in stride, and he'll focus on playing baseball."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.