Millville, N.J. Loves Mike Trout

Who cares if he now plays for the Los Angeles Angels? In this working-class town near the Jersey shore, the blue-collar Mike Trout is not only the best young athlete in baseball—he’s a hometown hero.

Nearly as celebrated as Trout’s talent is Jim’s Lunch, a cozy diner just off High Street that’s been run by the Maul family for 90 years. It’s one of the few long-term s­uccess stories here. Trout used to drop by after school—and sometimes before—for his usual order: six burgers, no cheese, just Jim’s special sauce. When the All-Star comes home, it’s the one place he can eat in peace, thanks to Rochelle Maul, Jim’s wife, who’s known the Trout family for decades and won’t let anyone approach their son. Trout sits facing the wall at a table in the back corner—a sign that fame makes it a little less easy to come home these days. It’s a lesson he learned the hard way—a friend’s tweet about their outing at a local golf course summoned a crowd of onlookers within minutes.

At the Old Oar House Irish Pub a few blocks away, a waitress with piercings and tattoos serves Guinness sliders to Bob Smith, a burly biker with the Grim Reaper emblazoned on the back of his leather vest. He works in one of the town’s last remaining glass factories and tells me he stopped in for a drink to get out of the rain. Nearly five hours later, he’s still here. Smith’s not the kind of guy you’d expect to be impressed by celebrity, but when I mention Trout, he tells me he ran into the ballplayer at a pet store, of all places. “He didn’t know me from you,” he says. “Couldn’t have been nicer.” Then he shows me a photo on his phone, a snapshot of his grandson, all smiles, with Trout. He pauses and says what I heard echoed all day and night: “That’s one fucking good kid.”

Before my stop at Jim’s Lunch and the bars, Shannon’s tour ended at a group of four houses hidden away in the woods of Millville that serve as their own de facto village. This is where Trout would pound stones with his Wiffle ball bat and tear up the dirt driveway with his go-cart. When Trout stopped by Shannon’s house for his annual Christmas Eve dinner last December, he held court in the kitchen, but all his talk was about hunting and golf, not baseball.




Normality is a relative state for Trout, as Jason Reed, Bob Reed’s son and one of Trout’s high-school teammates, saw on an off-
season golf outing. Trout birdied the 17th hole, then asked if there were any fish in the pond nearby. He borrowed a rod from the course’s owner and, before the group moved on to the final tee, caught three bass. “That’s the kind of year he had,” Jason tells me at Sidelines during the Angels game. “It really blows my mind how he’s stayed so centered.”

Much of the credit for Trout’s humility goes to his parents, who bounce from coast to coast to stay close to their son. Trout seems determined, too. He’s still with his high-school sweetheart, Jessica, and has said he plans to buy a house in Millville. Maybe the beachfront palace in California will come when he signs his first eight- (or nine-) figure contract. For now, Trout’s holding on tight to the Millbilly in him. Another story you’ll hear is how there’s nothing he’d rather do than find a sturdy trunk deep in the woods, set up a tree stand, and sit in silence. Shotgun in hand, he’ll wait patiently for a deer. It’s one of the last places he’s Mikey again.

 

Could the story really end this way? It’s the bottom of the ninth, two outs, and the Angels are down one run. As Trout makes his way to the plate, the fans at Sidelines cheer him on and rub their hands together in nervous anticipation. He works a full count, showing patience that one onlooker wishes Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins demonstrated more often. The next pitch looks like one he’ll get all of—until it drops off the table as he swings. Strike three, game over.

Though he’s still at or near the top of the Angels’ stat sheets, Trout may never have another year like his first, or live up to comparisons to Mickey Mantle. That’s fine by folks around here. “He’s going to write the book,” says Shannon. “I’m just a willing reader. I can’t wait to see what these chapters entail.”

Beyond all the talk of civic pride, once the game ends, Sidelines owner Ted Lambert tells me a different Mike Trout tale over a Miller Light and a shot of Jägermeister. The burly 42-year-old played basketball and football for the ’Bolts and bought the Trouts’ old house when they moved a couple miles away. Lambert and his eight-year-old son, Theo, didn’t talk sports much, until Theo’s friends found out he sleeps in Trout’s old bedroom, making him something of a schoolyard celebrity. Now the two watch Trout’s games together and scan the box scores daily. As Lambert tells me, “It’s a way to bond with my son that I’d never done before.” There’s no better proof of what Trout means to Millville, and of what sports can mean far beyond the diamond, in ways we may never see.

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