Millville Still Loves Its Trouty

Angels phenom Mike Trout, in the middle of his second great season, quietly inspires his South Jersey hometown.

Their records are nearly identical, but the Phillies and the Los Angeles Angels look like two teams headed in opposite directions. The Phils headed west with a glimmer of hope, thanks to having Utley and Chooch back in the lineup. That optimism was short-lived. Today they’re nine and a half games behind the Braves in the National League East, and five games under .500, their lowest mark of the season. Dom Brown may be the team’s MVP and lone offensive bright spot, but the outfield is a mess and the lineup lacks power.

Roughly 2,500 miles away, there’s a kid from these parts who is exactly what the Phillies need. At 21, Mike Trout is following up his history-making rookie year with another outstanding season: batting .315 with 13 home runs, 52 RBI and 20 stolen bases. With those numbers, he’d rank first or second on the Phillies in each category. (He also hit for the cycle this year, something no Phillie has done since 2004). Most important, Trout’s team is trending up, having won six in a row and feeling good about themselves.

Those warm and fuzzies carry over to the Angels’ fans, some of whom live in Millville, New Jersey, as I found when I visited Trout’s hometown for this month’s issue of Philadelphia magazine. I was a little concerned that Millville might be all Trouted out when I arrived to ask questions about the phenom who put them on the map. Trout’s Millville roots have been mentioned in untold newspapers across the country; GQ’s profile of Trout was titled “The MVP in Mom’s Basement,” a reference to his decision to stay at home with his parents in the off-season.

Turns out, Millville wasn’t too crazy about that story in particular — more than a few people thought it painted them as bumpkins. Considering some residents call themselves “Millbillies” with pride, that depiction might seem accurate. But there was an air of incredulous wonder in that piece, as if the writer, fresh from a high-rise office in Manhattan and plunged deep in the heart of South Jersey, wondered why Trout would voluntarily return to a place most cultured folk would rather escape.

What I discovered was that almost no one in Millville is over Trouty, as the locals called him long before his west coast fans did. They’re staying up way past their bedtimes to watch Angels games, and though they’re still Phillies fans, you’ll find #27 shirts and jerseys at the bars and in the stands at Little League games. Nearly everyone I spoke to had a Mike Trout story, from Mayor Tim Shannon (who has more than a few) to a badass biker at an Irish pub who couldn’t say enough nice things about him, to a father who’s reconnected with his son through their hometown hero. Yes, Millville is a working-class place that no one would call cosmopolitan. It’s also sports-crazy and proud, as you’ll see in our exclusive slideshow of photos. That’s exactly why Trout — who never takes a play off and wears grass stains like medals of honor — loves it.

What resonates more than Trout’s stats in Millville is the way he’s stayed humble, gives back to his community, and has become of symbol of what folks there hope their kids — and their town — can aspire to become. If there’s a downside to Trout’s story so far, it’s that the kid who grew up rooting for the Phillies isn’t playing on Pattison Avenue. As the window closes on the team’s World Series era, Phils fans may want to stay up late and look west, where there’s a hometown kid worth rooting for, regardless of the jersey he’s wearing.