Local legend: Trout set for Philly debut
Proud of Angels star, thousands of residents of Millville, N.J., to attend tonight's game
MILLVILLE, N.J. -- The anticipation began last summer, as word spread that the Angels' next Interleague opponents would reside in the National League East. It ascended on Sept. 10, when the 2014 schedule was unveiled and the month of May signaled a visit to Citizens Bank Park, home of the Phillies team that resides closest to the hometown of beloved superstar Mike Trout.
Ever since then, the excitement has been building among the residents of this rural, blue-collar, down-on-its-luck city, who will finally get a chance to spill their emotions tonight, shortly after 7:10 p.m. ET, when the Angels' starting center fielder and No. 2 hitter goes to the plate to hit in front of what will be anything but a visiting crowd.
"We're looking to shake The Bank," Tim Shannon, former Millville mayor and longtime family friend, said when asked what the reaction will be when Trout comes to bat in the opener of the two-game series.
"This is getting to be like a fever pitch around here. I'm telling you, I get chills thinking about it, because the people are going to be that pumped up. They're that excited, that they're going to let out a cheer for that young man, just to let him know how proud of him we are, and what he's done and what he means to us."
Trout means a lot to Millville. So much so that for his first Major League game in Philadelphia, upwards of 8,000 people from the area will make the 45-mile drive north for an event officially called "Millville Night."
They'd call it "Mike Trout Night" if they could.
"It's probably the biggest event this city has ever had," lifelong Millville resident and current deputy mayor Jim Quinn said. "Back in the '50s, Millville's [high school] football team had a 31-game winning streak that was a big thing, but I can't think of anything close to what is happening with Mike Trout at Citizens Bank Park."
If a group purchases at least 500 tickets, the Phillies will gladly name a night after your city. They've done it for years, and back in the early 1980s, "Millville Night" was an annual tradition. So around mid-October, Phils coordinator of premium sales and services Jerry O'Connor touched based with Quinn, a longtime season-ticket holder, about starting it up again.
Quinn mentioned it in a city meeting, worked with Marianne Lods, executive director of the Millville Development Corporation, to spread the word, and bought a block of 1,000 tickets -- in the 400 section, making up the upper deck behind home plate.
In 48 hours, they were sold out. And as of Monday afternoon, 3,960 tickets had been purchased.
That doesn't count the entire varsity baseball team of Trout's alma mater, Millville High School, which will sit in center field. Or the hundreds of others from encompassing Cumberland County, who will be sprinkled throughout the Phillies' home ballpark. Or a big portion of those traveling in an estimated 15 buses, making up a total fan base that's nearly 30 percent of Millville's entire population (just shy of 29,000).
"It's a phenomenal feat," O'Connor said, "and it's a true testament of the individuals from the Millville area."
Trout -- in a 6-for-43 slump that has his batting average down to .272 -- graduated from Millville High in 2009 and became arguably the game's best and most popular player in about four years. He's coming off back-to-back runner-up finishes in American League Most Valuable Player Award voting, he signed a six-year, $144.5 million extension less than seven weeks ago and he just graced the cover of Sports Illustrated for the third time.
In Millville, the folks love Trout because none of that has changed him.
"He's such a good kid," Millville High principal Kathleen Procopio said. "And he doesn't forget."
When Trout won the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year Award -- an achievement celebrated on various banners throughout the city -- he forwarded the $20,000 check to his high school's baseball program. When the season ends, he'll once again retire to his parents' house -- and his own personal man cave -- on the outskirts of Millville.
And the 22-year-old's arrival in Philly will indirectly provide a major economic boost to a county with New Jersey's third-highest unemployment rate.
The Phillies provide an $8 rebate for each ticket sold under their promotion. For Millville, that totals more than $30,000. And when paired with a matching grant, it'll provide an influx of more than $60,000 for further development. In addition, there are the 50 Trout shirts sold in two weeks by Landi Pools & Games, which donates a portion of the proceeds to the Millville Thunderbolt Club, and the 123 rally towels sold by Procopio in one school day, proceeds of which will benefit the graduating class.
"And it's also the pride that Mike Trout brings," said Millville mayor Michael Santiago, who wants to create a mural of Trout in the city. "I think it elevates people's self-confidence, to feel better, to want to maybe go the extra mile because Mike Trout has gone the extra mile to do good, and he represents this city very, very well."
Prior to the game, Santiago will throw out the ceremonial first pitch, a two-minute video highlighting Millville will play on the JumboTron, the Millville High marching band will perform on the field and the school's choral ensemble will sing the national anthem.
Trout has drawn large crowds in Baltimore, Washington, Boston and New York, but a game against the Phils is a much bigger deal in Millville.
"Because basically what we do, the baseball fans in this area, is we have a doubleheader every night -- the 7:05 game and the 10:05 game," Shannon said. "We have the Phillies, and then we have the Angels. That's the way it is now. It used to be Phillies and go to bed. Now it's Phillies and stay up as long as you can for the Angels."
Trout naturally grew up a Phillies fan. He worshiped Derek Jeter but also admired Chase Utley. Trout didn't have tickets for Game 5 of the 2008 World Series, between the Phils and Rays, so he tailgated with his friends, sat in the parking lot at Citizens Bank Park and celebrated a championship on Broad Street with the fans.
"It's going to be pretty cool to see everybody, but it's overwhelming sometimes because you want to please everybody and you really can't," Trout said, shaking his head.
"He doesn't like this stuff -- anything, really, that gets in the way of going to the ballpark, playing ball and going home," said Roy Hallenbeck, Trout's high school coach. "He doesn't like being recognized out. He would be happy if nobody knew who he was anywhere. I don't think there's a part of fame that he enjoys, because he's just such a down-to-Earth kid."
And that's part of why they love Trout so much in Millville.