MILLVILLE, N.J. — Jim Quinn was eating lunch in Denver International Airport when he and a couple from Edina, Minnesota, struck up a conversation.
They asked him, “Where are you from?” Quinn, hardly thinking they’d know his hometown, replied, “Out in Millville, New Jersey.”
“That’s where Mike Trout’s from, right!” the man said in excitement.
And with it, you could practically hear Millville respond in unison: Sure is.
“So Mike put us on the map, no question about it,” Quinn, the former mayor of Millville, said over the weekend. “That’s really cool, you can be sitting at Denver Airport talking with a guy from Minnesota, and he knows where Millville is because of Mike. It’s great.”
Millville, a tight-knit, cozy community in South Jersey, is a place where everyone seems to be connected in someway. On Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park, it’ll be reconnected with its beloved superstar when Trout and the Los Angeles Angels come to town to play the Phillies.
“It’s probably the most exciting because it’s home for him,” Trout’s cousin Dana Trout said last week.
Dana teaches at Millville Senior High School, where Trout became a daily attraction for MLB scouts.
“The stands will be filled with everyone from Millville and his family and his friends that love him," she said. "It’s going to be very exciting for us.”
Millville, 45 miles from Philadelphia, got its name from the many mills and factories planned in the 1790s. A 91-year-old diner named Jim’s Lunch sits on the busy corner of Main Street and High Street. It's the place to eat and is known for its one-of-a-kind hamburgers — Trout’s favorite.
The town still shows its age, history and pride, but most of all, it shows Mike Trout. Millville loves its Mikey Trout. So much so that you can’t go through town without seeing his picture hanging up or hearing his name being said.
“As soon as you enter Millville, [the sign] says, ‘Welcome to Millville, Home of Mike Trout,’” Roberto Rivera, a senior middle infielder at Millville Senior High School, said. “Pictures all over, it’s all over the place. Every locker room, every store you walk into, just everything is Mike.”
That’s the immeasurable impact Trout has had on Millville — the place he loves to call home.
The place he held his press conference after winning 2012 AL Rookie of the Year.
The place he would come back to in the offseason to live with his parents.
The place that needs and loves him most.
“Our town, as many towns have, has been struggling,” Quinn said. “The economy’s been tough with losing jobs. We have a beautiful New Jersey motorsports park, a gorgeous theater that we’ve put a lot of money into, so we have some really nice things in town, but Mike is the best that we could ask for — it’s so wonderful. I think people would all agree that Mike Trout is what we are so happy to have coming from Millville.”
No, Trout doesn’t hail from a highly-touted prep school or prestigious program from down south or out west that breads big leaguers.
The 22-year-old prodigy, who has thrice graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, is arguably the best baseball player on the planet and is already drawing comparisons to the game’s all-time greats, happens to be a simple kid who likes to fish, hunt and, of course — hang out in Millville.
“Hometown kid,” said Millville Senior High School baseball coach Roy Hallenbeck, who coached Trout from 2006-09. “He could have gone and played anywhere.”
Instead, Trout blossomed into a major-league prospect (see story) at a public school with a field that’s not quite state of the art — which is fitting, because he probably wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“What’s nice about it is Mike is such a good person,” Quinn said. “You get some of these superstar athletes that have attitudes and aren’t really genuine, but Mike is a genuinely nice guy. You see him signing autographs as he’s walking down the left-field line. It’s wonderful that such a good thing happens to such a good person.”
In tiny Millville, there’s always that connection.
Senior pitcher Kyle Cox’s sister Jessica is Trout’s girlfriend.
“He’s a great person,” Cox said. “Coming into my family, he’s really fit in. He likes to play around and do all that stuff — he’s a kid.
“He’s one of my role models.”
As a youngster, Rivera watched his brother and Trout play on the same team.
“I’ve watched him grow up playing down at Sharp Street since he was like 12, so I just look at him like another person,” Rivera said. “But when I see him on TV and the things he does, it just gives me chills sometimes because we sat in the same classrooms, walked in the same halls and played on the same fields.”
But Trout’s contributions go far beyond his high school baseball team wearing sweet hats, Nike uniforms and playing on a tuned-up field now bearing his name.
He’s inspired all of Millville to, no matter what, dream big.
“It just goes to show, it doesn’t matter where you’re from,” Quinn said, “but if you have the will, the desire, and in Mike’s case, the talent, you can be anything you want to be.”
So it’s no surprise the town coordinated “Millville Night” for Tuesday evening at Citizens Bank Park, with an estimated 6,000 coming to support their own.
“There’s going to be nobody left here,” Hallenbeck joked.
That’s because Millville is Mike Trout. And Mike Trout is Millville.
“Everyone has a sense of pride being from Millville and going to Millville Senior High School and being a Thunderbolt,” Dana Trout said. “We’re just very proud of our town and our school, especially since Mikey gets to represent us, it’s even better.”