The Los Angeles Angels are in a tailspin. On May 24, they were 27-17—just a game back of the Astros in the AL West. Now they are 27-28, losers of 11 straight, including sweeps by the Blue Jays, Yankees, and now Phillies. Shohei Ohtani is batting .171 during that stretch, and gave up nine runs in his two most recent starts en route to taking the loss in each. Mike Trout is in the worst slump of his career; he’s hitless in his last 26 at-bats. In this weekend’s series in Philadelphia, he went 0-for-11.
These sorts of slides happen even to great players, and even good teams can hit a losing streak, but you know all that already. I’m writing this because it continues a trend for Trout in Philly, where he has now played on the road five times. (In addition to this series, he also played there twice in 2014.) In those games, Trout is 2-for-20 with a single and a triple. He has three walks, a stolen base, and a run scored to go along with seven strikeouts. Yikes!
That’s a small sample size, and if Trout returns to the area in another seven years he’ll probably hit a ball so hard that it will reach the casino behind center field. Phillies fans were surely happy to see the Angels’ star player struggle at the plate in the weekend sweep, which culminated yesterday with a walkoff Bryson Stott homer. But Trout’s two trips to Philadelphia so far in his career have left his most ardent and long-standing fans disappointed.
That’s because Trout grew up in Phillies country. He is from Millville, a South Jersey town about an hour outside Philly, and was a high school star there. Because Millville is in a more-remote part of the Garden State his exploits were primarily known to readers of Vineland’s Daily Journal and fellow South Jersey natives like Michael Baumann. Trout’s time there was also a long time ago, so long ago that his Millville High School team had a tradition of bleaching their hair blonde. Trout was great, of course. He was walked with the bases loaded. Before he was moved to the outfield he threw an 18-strikeout no-hitter. The Daily Journal’s Ben Watanabe called his 2008 “the most dominant season this area has seen since Tim Edmeads in 2003.” Since Tim Edmeads! (He played at WVU and Rowan.) And that was Trout’s junior year.
In his senior year, when Trout shifted to the outfield, he hit .581 with 18 homers and 20 steals (in just 81 at-bats). He was such a star that a reader wrote into the Daily Journal to tell Trout to go to college (he’d committed to East Carolina): “And with no college education, which is almost a necessity in today’s world, where will his future be then? Did anyone bother to take the time to consider that?” There was a riposte the very next day from then-Millville Mayor Tim Shannon: “I have known the Trout family my entire life, and Jeff and Debbie’s son’s future will be secure no matter what path this young man chooses.… We should embrace young people who have made the sacrifice to be able to achieve such high status, and we should encourage all young people to work as hard as Mike Trout has to attain their goals Mike Trout has proven that with hard work and determination anything is possible.” The mayor ended his letter asking for tickets.
Trout did skip college after being drafted by the Angels in the first round, and reached the majors by 2011. If you’re reading this you probably don’t need to be told that Trout is one of the best players of his generation, recent slump notwithstanding. He’s led the league multiple times in on-base-percentage, slugging, and walks. He’s a three-time MVP. His numbers basically make him a Hall of Famer already, and he’s just 30. And by the time he got to the big leagues, he was still a star in South Jersey.
“He grew up with a smile on his face, fishing on Union Lake,” Shannon said in 2012. “The typical little red-ass kid who never saw the negatives, or never cared about them. He loves this place, and, man, is he loved. I’m telling you, what he’s doing has put a spring in a lot of people’s steps around here.” Travis Laferriere, then the coach of South Jersey’s Schalick High, said in 2012 that his players liked Trout more than the Phillies, who had recently had a run of five division titles, a World Series win, and a 102-win season: “The first day of camp, I asked the kids if they’ve been watching the Phillies, since that’s really our local team. And the kids were like, ‘Nah, we watch the Angels.’ They make a catch and they shout, ‘Mike Trout! Mike Trout!‘” A Philadelphia magazine story about Millville in 2013 summed up the locals’ opinion of the man: “That’s one fucking good kid.” (Fellow baseball players seem to have this opinion of him, too.)
And Mayor Shannon got his tickets—lots of them. When Trout first played in Philadelphia in 2014, 8,000 people from the Millville area attended one of the games. The city had about 28,000 people at the time. The mayor basically credited Mike Trout with keeping the city together: “We’ve gone through some tough times with the unemployment, crime, and factories closing, but what keeps our excitement going is Mike. Our pride has swollen.” There is even a Mike Trout interchange on Route 55.
Trout has basically become a local celebrity in the Philadelphia area, too. Local news sites aggregate his thoughts on Eagles’ offseason moves like he’s Sal Paolantonio, and profile his presence in the stands as an Eagles season ticket holder. He is from “Near Philly.” And why not? If car dealers who fall asleep at Sixers games can be local celebs, surely an unbelievably great baseball player can be, too—even if he is actually from Jersey and plays all the way across the country. People tried to wish him to the Phillies before he signed his huge extension with the Angels.
This weekend’s series was another Millville party. The Press of Atlantic City said “several thousand” fans from the Millville area made the trip to the Phillies stadium this weekend to see Trout go 0-for-11.
I was at Phillies games were Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds hit huge home runs. I suppose I groused a little about cheering for an opponent, but it ruled. Once Bonds became unpopular, Phillies fans booed him as he approached Babe Ruth’s record—but then showed their true colors by yelping in awe as he hit home run No. 713 into the upper deck. It would be nice if Mike Trout got that kind of moment, too.
For now, though, at least he gets to see some friends: “It’s obviously good to be back. I want another outcome, but it’s good to see some people I haven’t seen in a while.” One day he’ll hit a homer in Philly. Maybe.