It was the Nightmare on Katella Avenue, and not just for one night. For the better part of a decade, the Angels and their fans sweated and dreaded the fear that Mike Trout would take his talents to South Philly. Trout would go home and win big, and the Angels would be stranded in purgatory.
In real life, there was a twist. The Philadelphia Phillies did get a center fielder from the Angels, and they did win big. Trout and the Angels remain in purgatory.
On Monday, as the Phillies play their first World Series home game since Trout’s senior year of high school, their center fielder is expected to be Brandon Marsh.
“God works in mysterious ways,” Marsh said.
Trout, the three-time American League most valuable player, has played 11 full seasons without winning a postseason game. Marsh, in his first full season, has won 10 in the last 24 days.
Marsh said he was shocked to be traded from the Angels in August, blessed to be in the World Series, and grateful to Trout. After the Phillies clinched their World Series berth, Marsh said Trout sent a congratulatory text.
“He’s been a great role model for me,” Marsh said. “He is a guy that I would like to have in my corner for as long as I can. That’s a dude I look up to for sure, on and off the field.
“Trouty is as good as it gets, as a person and player. He is one of a kind.”
He is everything you could want in a hometown hero, yet he chose not to come home.
In 2013, before Trout had even turned 21, Philadelphia magazine practically salivated at the prospect of Trout coming home some day.
The magazine dutifully noted how Trout returned every winter to his hometown of Millville, N.J., about 45 miles from the Phillies’ ballpark, how his usual order at Jim’s Diner was “six burgers, no cheese, just Jim’s special sauce,” and how an 8-year-old named Theo had become “something of a schoolyard celebrity” because Theo’s parents bought Trout’s old family home and Theo discovered he was sleeping in Trout’s old bedroom.
As the magazine put it: “Trout in a Phillies uniform is a dream that even he had trouble waking up from; in 2009, after he’d already become an Angel, he yelled to his father from his bedroom, “We got Roy Halladay!”
In fairness, Trout was six months out of high school, his Angels career at that point limited to 44 minor league games in Tempe, Ariz. and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
“Can you imagine Trout and Harper on the same team? Man, that would be amazing.”
— Tim Shannon, former mayor of Millville, N.J.
He was in the Futures Game in 2010, the major leagues in 2011, and the All-Star Game in 2012. He will be in the Hall of Fame five years after he retires.
Said Roy Hallenbeck, Trout’s high school coach: “People thought how great it would be to bring him home.”
Trout never went home, or anywhere else, or even allowed himself the chance to consider other teams.
In 2014, four seasons before he could have become a free agent, he signed a $144.5-million contract extension with the Angels. In 2019, two seasons before he again could have become a free agent, he exchanged the last two years of that first big contract for an even bigger one: 12 years and $426.5 million.
Three weeks earlier, the Phillies had signed Bryce Harper. In turn, Harper told a Philadelphia radio station, “If you don’t think I’m gonna call Mike Trout to come to Philly in 2020, you’re crazy.”
Could the Phillies have afforded Harper and Trout? If the San Diego Padres could afford Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. for $640 million in one of the smallest markets in the major leagues, the big-market Phillies absolutely could have bought Harper and Trout for another $100 million.
“Can you imagine Trout and Harper on the same team? Man, that would be amazing,” said Tim Shannon, a former mayor of Millville.
At the news conference to announce his mammoth deal, Trout and his wife Jessica sat beneath an enormous red banner: the word LOYALTY displayed in giant letters, with a halo above the A.
“He’s pretty true,” said Shannon, who has known the Trout family for decades. “He doesn’t waver much. He doesn’t have a lot to say, but he goes out there and plays hard every day.
“I think he’s got that salt-of-the-Earth mentality. If somebody takes care of him, he’s going to be loyal to them.”
Fans in Millville thought Trout would come home to play, but he did not. Fans throughout the major leagues thought Trout would demand a trade from the Angels, but he has not.
Shannon believes the only way Trout would leave Anaheim would be if the Angels came to him and asked him to approve a trade so they could “get some ballplayers into the system.”
Said Shannon: “If he ever came to Philly, I’d have to re-mortgage the house to get season tickets.”
For this week, at least, the good folks of Millville need not split their loyalties between the Angels and the Phillies.
“The fan base out here is absolutely crazy with excitement,” Hallenbeck said. “Everything on the news and social media is all about the Phillies.”
Hallenbeck is the rare Millville resident who is not absolutely crazy with excitement. He might bleed Angels red, but not Phillies red.
“I’m a Mets fan,” he said, laughing. “No, this is not really a great time for me.”