MILLVILLE, N.J. -- Kids often try to model themselves after their favorite players, imitating their swings or batting stances. Rarely do they have the opportunity to get to meet them, let alone become close friends.
Buddy Kennedy is one of those exceptions.
The Millville High School senior third baseman may have played all of his home games at Mike Trout Field, named for his school's most famous alumnus, but for Kennedy, Trout has become much more than a boyhood idol. He's a friend.
"I've always looked up to him," Kennedy said. "Ever since I actually met him and got to know him, he's always been my hero. I still can't believe that I'm good friends with him today."
Kennedy completed an impressive high school career of his own this week, posting a .493/.550/.985 slash line with six home runs and 24 RBIs in 20 games as a senior. And the 18-year-old is expected to be selected on the second day of next week's MLB Draft, with some projections having him going as high as the fourth or fifth round.
Scouting reports on Kennedy don't sound unlike Trout either: "Super compact and short ... Runs really well ... Stocky build ... Feel for barrel, hits hard." One even concludes that Kennedy has "Trout-like mannerisms."
His relationship with Trout goes back to the winter of 2011, when a 12-year-old Kennedy was introduced to the Angels' star, who had been drafted in the first round two years earlier and was fresh off a 40-game debut stint in Anaheim. Trout invited Kennedy to work out with him one night, a huge thrill for a kid with pronounced baseball aspirations of his own.
"It was kind of a shock to me," Kennedy said. "I was a little kid at the time, and it was like, 'Wow.' He had gotten drafted into professional baseball, which I want to do one day, hopefully. It was awesome. I was star-struck at first; it was kind of nerve-wracking. I knew I was little and I wasn't up to his caliber, but I was just trying to stick with him as much as I could."
One workout led to another, and eventually Kennedy became a regular at the gym with his fellow Millville native. Trout would take the Majors by storm the following season, earning American League Rookie of the Year honors and finishing second in AL Most Valuable Player voting.
When Trout returned home to Millville after the 2012 season, it was time for Kennedy to head back to the gym to work out with baseball's biggest rising star.
"He just knows that if I did it, coming from a small town, that he has a chance to do it," Trout said. "The guy works hard."
Trout finally won the MVP award in 2014, and even as he became widely considered the best player in the game, he still spent his offseasons in his hometown, where Kennedy -- who was now a freshman at Trout's alma mater -- was more than happy to soak in every moment he could spend with him.
"I just looked at him as a normal friend," Kennedy said. "He's not a guy that comes out and has all these flashy things. He's in the woods, a Millville guy, comes out to workouts in his hunting gear and just gets his work done."
At 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, Kennedy's stocky frame is "deceptive," according to Roy Hallenbeck, Millville's head coach for nearly two decades.
"He's explosive; that's the first thing that comes to my mind," Hallenbeck said. "He's so stocky and big, he sometimes gives the impression that he's not quite as explosive as he is. The kid's a runner, a great arm, great defender, but his bat is probably his best attribute. He hits for power, hits for average; the sky's the limit for Buddy."
While Hallenbeck knows the dangers of comparing his latest star to the two-time MVP, the coach believes Kennedy has a bright future ahead of him.
"He doesn't lift the ball as much as Mike did, so his home run numbers aren't where they are," Hallenbeck said. "But he hits the ball just as hard, has just as good hands, so he's comparable to what Mike was as a senior. Let's not get crazy and go forward, but senior to senior, very comparable."
As Kennedy -- who is committed to play at the University of North Carolina -- has gone through his senior season, he's taken the opportunity to pick Trout's brain about the pre-draft process. One of his biggest takeaways? The harsh reality that would come with turning pro as a teenager rather than attending college.
"You're 18 years old, you go away and you're all alone; no parents, no one," Kennedy said. "He told me you grow up real quick. In real life, you have dishes, you wash your clothes. He's like, 'Just go out and have fun.'
"A lot of kids don't get this opportunity, so I'm just trying to go with it. I'm not worried about it; whatever is meant to be is meant to be."
Hallenbeck pointed to Kennedy's relationship with Trout as a major factor in the 18-year-old's ability to handle the whirlwind of being a top baseball prospect at an age when many kids are more concerned about which beach they're going to hang out at all summer.
"For Buddy to be around Mike all these years and see that he's just another ballplayer just like everybody else, that he goes about his business the same way everybody else does, there's really nothing different about what he does," Hallenbeck said. "I think it normalizes it and lets Buddy relax a little bit more and trust the process a little bit more."
Trout isn't Kennedy's only such resource. Although he says his relationship with Trout is that of a "little brother," Kennedy has actual big league family ties. His grandfather is Don Money, a four-time All-Star who play infield for the Phillies and Brewers during a 16-year career.
"I ever need help, I go to him and he's always there," Kennedy said of his grandfather, who took him to Helena, Mont., when he was 16 to spend a week with the Brewers' Rookie Ball team in the Pioneer League. "He said, 'It's nothing special; you'll maybe get a little locker and a stool.' He just wanted me to go out and have fun, play with your heart, play like it's your last game. It's great to have him. I love him; he's my man."
Kennedy says he'll be following the Draft on MLB.com with family and friends, and while Trout will be on the other side of the country, he'll be watching to see where his young protégé lands.
"I'm pulling for him," Trout said. "It was a very exciting time for me, and it's definitely going to be exciting for him."
The 2017 Draft will take place Monday-Wednesday, June 12-14, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB Network and MLB.com at 6 p.m. Monday. MLB Network will broadcast the first 36 picks (Round 1 and Competitive Balance Round A), while MLB.com will stream all 75 picks on Day 1. MLB.com will also provide live pick-by-pick coverage of Rounds 3-10 on Day 2, starting at 1 p.m. ET. Then, Rounds 11-40 can be heard live on MLB.com on June 14, beginning at noon ET.
Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.
Maria Guardado contributed to this story.