The timing could not be better. After spending parts of 10 seasons with the Los Angeles Angels and earning nearly $150 million, Mike Trout is finally a free agent. He's still only 29, he's closing in on 300 career home runs, and he has won three American League MVP awards. The Angels want to keep him, and Yankees GM Derek Jeter wants him badly, too.
Let the recruiting begin.
If any of the preceding dream sequence comes to fruition - just imagine those Utley GM updates - the Phillies will be able to say that they started their recruiting of Trout on the night of May 13, 2014. With the 22-year-old Trout playing at Citizens Bank Park for the first time in his already mesmerizing career, the Phillies didn't just welcome him with a marching band, they personalized the band.
In fact, they made the entire evening all about Millville, the South Jersey town of 28,000 that delivered Trout to the baseball world when he became the 25th overall pick by the Angels in the 2009 draft. The Millville High School baseball team was invited to batting practice, the school choir sang the national anthem, and the town's mayor threw out the first pitch. Depending on who did the estimate, there were 4,000 to 8,000 Millvillians among the crowd of 41,959, and this made Mike Trout very happy.
Considering this year's decline in attendance, it made the Phillies happy, too, and if their welcoming of Trout was so nice that it bordered on tampering, so be it. You can get away with things like that when the player has more than a half-decade before he becomes a free agent.
"It just feels great to be home," Trout said after flying in with the Angels from Toronto early Tuesday morning and sleeping at his parents' home before going for his favorite burger at Jim's Lunch in downtown Millville. "It's going to be exciting to go out there and see family and friends, people who cheer you on. Being from South Jersey, it means a lot to have fans and people who follow me."
Trout wasn't just saying that because it was the right thing to say. He's not some kid who went to Hollywood and didn't care whether he ever returned to his roots. He loves it here, and that just might be the Phillies' biggest advantage over the Angels, Yankees, and any other team that wants the 21st century's version of Mickey Mantle in 2021.
No matter how much time Trout spends in Southern California, you get the impression he's always coming home to South Jersey at the end of every season. You also get the impression that he'd love the opportunity to never leave. He spoke affectionately about the Eagles and the local weather.
"Oh, yeah, definitely a season-ticket holder, a huge Eagles fan," Trout said. "I get up and cheer a little bit. I'm into the games for sure. If they get beat, it's tough."
Knowing how the hearts and minds of Philadelphia fans work, Trout said before the game that he was curious to see how he would be received. He knew the Millvillians would be on his side, but he wasn't sure about the others.
"It's going to be pretty cool to see the reaction, because I know when I was growing up as a kid, going to Eagles games, if I saw someone without an Eagles jersey on, they were getting booed," Trout said.
The reaction to Trout throughout the evening was beyond cool. His name drew the loudest applause during the pregame introductions by public address announcer Dan Baker, and when he stepped to the plate in the top of the first inning, he received a standing ovation.
That's the kind of thing that happens to great ballplayers in opposing ballparks at the end of their careers. It's also the kind of thing that the Phillies have to hope Trout remembers in November 2020 when the richest teams in baseball likely will be doing all they can to pay him $300 million to play the rest of his career for them.
Perhaps it was a little too early to ask Trout about coming to Philadelphia, but I decided to give it a shot anyway.
"When the time comes," he said, "we'll see."
We've heard that Trout likes fishing. Given their red-carpet treatment of the centerfielder Tuesday night, it's not out of the question that the Phillies would be willing to include the Delaware Bay in his next deal. It's much nicer than the Hudson River.