Millville and Phillies fans cheer Trout

Posted: May 15, 2014

AS WE ALL know by now, either 4,000 or 6,000 or 8,000 people (depending upon the enthusiasm of the narrator) - perhaps approaching 25 percent of the population of Millville, N.J. - purchased tickets for a ballgame last night. With Mike Trout coming home to play the Phillies for the first time, this fact was well-publicized.

As such, any self-respecting professional burglar with an Internet connection was aware of this migration and undoubtedly headed to Millville, a caravan of nondescript panel trucks driving south on Route 55 as a caravan of enthusiastic minivans drove north. It could be argued, therefore, that the better column was to be found in the hometown that was temporarily a ghost town.

As Thomas Haas, the Millville police chief, said in a phone interview: "A lot of people around here like to show their stuff. The people with the 'Go Mike Trout' sign in front of their house, they're the people you want to pick."

Haas said that as soon as he heard about this night, he began to think about the nefarious possibilities. (They've actually been through it on a smaller scale when Trout played in other nearby cities.) The chief said his force was fully staffed last night, with added patrol help from the state police and the sheriff's department. And, no, he said it wasn't hard to convince his officers to work and miss the game.

"They like Mike," Haas said. "But you have to pay to go to the game, and there are a lot of cheap cops around here."

That said, maybe it was better that the car never reached the bridge, instead steering itself to Citizens Bank Park. Which was where the vice mayor was doing his combination WSNJ radio/television show from Suite 58 in the early afternoon. And as Jim Quinn said, "When Mike comes out to hit the first time, I know I'll be standing and cheering. I know a lot of people who will be."

As it turned out, pretty much everybody cheered when Trout was announced by Dan Baker - especially the thousands of people wearing the orange Millville shirts who were sitting in the 400 level overlooking first base, but really everybody. It was as warm a welcome as a visiting player could hope to receive, especially one with no past-and-happy ties to the Phillies (think Jim Thome).

People who came on totally booked buses cheered. Current Millville High School baseball players, who were greeted on the field by Trout after batting practice, cheered. The school band that played on the field before the game cheered. The mayor who threw out the first pitch wearing a Millville jersey cheered. And thousands and thousands and thousands of Phillies fans cheered, too, even if their only interaction with Millville heretofore has been to drive past it when taking the back roads to the shore.

"The whole thing is just great," said Roy Hallenbeck, the Millville High baseball coach, who told an interesting story about Trout as a freshman in high school. He played second base that year, Hallenbeck said, "and he was really fast. He wasn't big yet, though. The only thing that jumped off the page when he came to us was his speed. The question was, would he just be that good, old speed kind of guy?"

Trout also played high school football for a year, Hallenbeck said, "and the word on the street was that he was a righthanded Tim Tebow. That would have been real interesting to see."

Just a guess: If he had played football, Eagles fans would not have treated Trout as warmly as Phillies fans did. Because last night, it just seemed that most everybody understood.

The odds of the thing, after all, are stupid. About 120,000 babies were born in New Jersey in 1991. About 60,000 of those babies were boys. One of them is currently in the major leagues. One - and not someone there for a hearty handshake and only a couple of fat paychecks. No, not Trout, not this one. If life were fair, this one would be the reigning Most Valuable Player in the American League.

The odds of it all? Put it this way: You would have a better chance of being struck by lightning while having a drink with a supermodel. The odds are what they were all celebrating last night, all of those people in the orange shirts - pride mixed with the joy of owning a piece of this great municipal superfecta ticket, a share that cannot be purchased except by the experience of living in a small town that is about 40 miles from home plate in Citizens Bank Park.

Which was where the guest of honor stepped into the batter's box at 7:08 p.m. to face Cliff Lee. It was all Phillies fans - no Trout shirts - standing in Ashburn Alley along the railing that overlooks the bullpens. Everybody cheered the announcement of Trout's name, 100 percent.

Then . . .

"STRIKE HIM OUT, LEE," a man bellowed, after Trout looked at strike one.

"THERE YOU GO, WHIFF HIM," the man continued two pitches later, after Trout looked at a second strike.

"THAT'S AN OUT . . . YEAH!" the man concluded, after Trout grounded out to shortstop.

At which point, the man and his Roy Halladay shirsey turned and headed off into the crowded alley. There is one in every crowd, apparently. And on this night, in this crowd, there was only one.


On Twitter: @theidlerich


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