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Mike Trout's hometown fans take their loyalty on the road

Mike Trout has a routine before his first at-bat of each game, one from which he rarely deviates. The Angels center fielder walks briskly from the on-deck circle to the plate, taps the umpire and catcher on the shin guards with his bat and digs his foot into the box. It's all business, with no wasted motion or energy.

Tuesday night was different. As Trout approached the plate after being introduced, fans all over Citizens Bank Park, from the field-level seats to the middle and upper decks to the outfield bleachers, rose in unison and began cheering wildly.

Some 6,000 to 7,000 residents from Trout's hometown of Millville, N.J., made the 45-mile drive north to see Trout, a 22-year-old who is considered by many to be the best player in baseball, play his first big league game in Philadelphia.

But it was clear by the volume and length of this ovation that it involved a good portion of the 41,959 fans in a stadium that is notorious for being hostile to opponents.

Trout, who five years ago was playing high school ball in the Cape Atlantic League, stepped out of the box and stood for several moments, taking it all in.

"It was unbelievable, a real special moment for me," Trout said after the Angels scored four unearned runs in the sixth inning in a 4-3 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. "It gave me chills to have an opposing team support me like that. It was an awesome feeling. I wanted to take it in a little longer and thank the fans."

Trout, who singled once in five at-bats, wasn't the star of the game. That honor went to third baseman Luis Jimenez, who hit a tie-breaking, two-run double in the top of the sixth inning and, with two on in the bottom of the sixth, made a superb diving catch of Marlon Byrd's liner to start an inning-ending double play.

But Trout was the main attraction.

He conducted a 15-minute news conference before the game with about 100 members of the media. He posed for pictures with the Millville High varsity team during batting practice.

After the stadium gates opened, hundreds of fans, many wearing Trout's No. 27 Angels jersey or his Millville No. 1 Throwback T-shirt, rushed toward the field in hopes of getting an autograph or picture of their hometown hero.

It was a proud moment for Roy Hallenbeck, Trout's high school coach, but not as surreal as the feeling he got on July 9, 2011, when he traveled to Anaheim to see Trout, then 19, play his second game with the Angels.

"It's really difficult to put into words, especially early on, because he was still our guy, our Mikey," Hallenbeck said, when asked what it's like to see Trout play in major league stadiums.

"It almost seemed like he was on the wrong field, and he should be on our field, because it happened so quick. But we're a little more used to it now because we've been watching him play for three years."

Angels Manager Mike Scioscia, the former Dodgers catcher, grew up in a Philadelphia suburb and said that many of his trips to play the Phillies were so hectic "it was almost a relief when the games started." But the demands on Scioscia weren't quite what they were on Trout.

"My obligation was to eat lasagna at my grandmother's house," Scioscia said. "It was important because I had my family and friends, but it was a fraction of what Mike is going to get, and deservedly so. You don't see guys who are 22 do what he does on the baseball field. That's why he gets so much attention."

Trout seemed unfazed. Before the game, he clutched his hamstring as he passed Scioscia in the dugout, telling the manager, "I think I need a day off."

That wasn't going to happen, even if Trout wasn't joking, not with so many from Millville (pop. 29,000) on hand.

"I can take it when a lot of people get ticked off at me," Scioscia said, "but not his mom."

Trout, who signed a six-year, $144.5-million contract in March, had special praise for his parents, Jeff and Debbie, both retired teachers.

"I can't thank them enough," he said. "One of my goals was to let them retire early. All the sacrifices and money they spent on me, it's paid off. It's pretty cool to look up in the stands and have your family there."

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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