By Jack Margaros
Approaching his freshman year at Millville High School, Mike Trout’s childhood dreams were soon becoming a reality. Jeff, his father, was deemed a legend in the town of Millville, New Jersey after setting numerous baseball records before returning to to take over the program. Mike, the baby of the family, would soon continue the legacy starting in the spring of 2006.
“It’s hard to picture now, but at the time, because of his dad being who he was, a local legend and a former coach, playing baseball at Millville High School was like the biggest thing in the world to him,” Millville head coach Roy Hallenbeck said, who coached Trout.
Trout stood about 5-foot, 8-inches, barely hitting 150 pounds; far from his current 6-foot, 2-inch frame that features 85 additional pounds.
“He was the fastest kid on the team and he was the littlest kid on the team,” Hallenbeck said. “He could flat out run. That was the first tool that jumped out on the page was his speed.”
Just as any other freshman making the immediate jump to varsity baseball, Trout was a little slow to catch on.
“He was so keyed up, he just couldn’t relax. He was throwing balls all over the place. For a brief moment as a freshman, he struggled,” Hallenbeck said. “We’re a big high school, we play in a big conference. Early on, to say that he was the best player on every field we were, that wouldn’t quite be fair.”
Hallenbeck was going into his seventh year at the helm of Millville. He had been coaching since his graduation from Springfield College in 1993, majoring is health and physical education.
“(Springfield College) is where all the seeds were planted,” he recalled. “Wasn’t the best player or student that I could have or should have been at the time…Some of the lessons I learned here kind of sunk in later on.”
He can recollect every single room he ever lived in on campus as a testament to the impression that Springfield left on him.
“I wasn’t the type of player that this institution remembers, but I remember them…For me there were a lot of lessons, good and bad, learned right out there that I’ve been able to pass along through my career” he said pointing to space where Berry-Allen Field used to occupy.
After his tenure on Alden Street came to an end, Hallenbeck’s next stop landed him at Drexel University (PA), functioning as the team’s hitting coach. Three years later, he decided to make his first appearance on the high school scene, taking a full-time job at Millville teaching physical education and serving as an assistant under Jeff.
Over two decades later, Hallenbeck is entering his 21st season as Millville’s head coach. He has undoubtedly seen some talented ballplayers come through his program, but none like Trout .
Trout eventually found his way sophomore year, hitting .457 and compiling 35 runs, 37 hits, 18 RBI and 19 stolen bases serving as the team’s shortstop and ace pitcher.
“Most kids have one big jump in high school where physically they just become a man and they go away in the offseason and they come back recognized. That happens once to most kids. With (Mike), it happened every year,” Hallenbeck said.
Junior season rolled around and Trout, unsurprisingly, was even better. His presence among the state of New Jersey grew.
“By the time he was a junior, he was probably the best player on the field no matter where we were or who we were playing against,” Hallenbeck said.
The spring of 2009, senior year for Trout, was a season of change. He decided to make the transition from shortstop to the outfield. He was not as smooth compared to other top high school shortstops, causing Hallenbeck to suggest the switch.
“With the way he runs, you are kind of wasting it at (shortstop),” Hallenbeck said. “We had long talks with him and his parents…They were all in. They bought in, they understood that it was probably a good move. As soon as (Mike) got out there, he bought in 100 percent and went from there.”
Despite all that, he hit a ridiculous .531, drove in 45 while scoring 49 runs, stole 19 more bases and set a state record with 18 home runs in just 21 games. He ended his high school career with a .461 batting average and 31 home runs, all while being walked 87 times.
“Senior year was an absolute circus, and I mean that in the best way possible. We had more scouts than fans at every game. We had multiple scouts at practices,” Hallenbeck said. “Me and my assistant coaches were late to a lot of dinners that year because we’d stay and talk with the scouts…It was a new normal that we had.”
Trout originally signed a letter of intent to play ball at East Carolina University. Although, in a matter of weeks, those plans changed.
“All of the sudden, he just exploded even more. Every week it was, “maybe he should go to college.” Then the next week, “well he’s probably going to be a high enough pick to sign.” Then all of the sudden he’s a top 10 round pick,” Hallenbeck said. “Then we’re hearing top five. Then his dad comes in and says, “we just got word he’s probably going to be a first-rounder.” It just happened over night…It really was a whirlwind and before you know it, we have a first rounder on our hand.”
Leading up to the 2009 MLB Draft, Trout was scheduled for a pre-draft workout with the New York Yankees. This event fell on the same day of his final high school game.
“We had already won the conference. The team we were playing was not very strong team. It was our last day of the season. He had full excuse. We had planned on him not being there. We were actually upset that we couldn’t go there with him to the workout,” Hallenbeck said.
He drove to Yankee Stadium, did what he needed to do, then bolted back to Millville to get there before game time.
“(My assistant) got a text from Jeff, that said don’t fill out the lineup, he’s coming home,” Hallenbeck recalled.
Trout had every reason to miss this game, but he felt he needed to be there for his team.
“We have a lot of pictures that day. It’s a sense of pride. Not what the picture is, but the fact of what he sacrificed to get back for that day and what that meant to him. It makes us feel good as coaches, that this must be a pretty decent environment if he wanted to come back so badly,” Hallenbeck said.
The 18-year-old was selected 25th overall in the first round by the Los Angeles Angels in the draft. For just the second time in Hallenbeck’s career, he played part in an MLB Draft pick’s development.
“It was surreal. We were lucky enough to be there,” Hallenbeck said. “Me and my staff were at the MLB studio. We were all that baseball field looking studio in right field, and (Mike) was there in the dugout… It was one of the greatest professional nights of our life.”
Fast forward nine years. Trout is on pace to be one of the greatest baseball players of all time. He was selected American League Rookie of the Year in 2012 and has won two AL Most Valuable Player Awards. He has yet to hit his “prime years,” as he just finished his age 26 season, and has already compiled a Hall of Fame worthy career.
“The perspective is at the time (in high school), you don’t know that. That’s what’s hard sometimes for me and my assistant coaches to wrap our heads around, that yeah, he was special. He was obviously better, but you don’t know the result at the time,” Hallenbeck said.
“My assistant coach and I said after he got drafted that I think a realistic view would be, if we can stay up late at night and watch our boy play on the West Coast; maybe nobody outside of Anaheim knows who he is…If he could be an everyday Major Leaguer, then that’s going to be something special. He far surpassed that.”
With winning the Rookie of the Year award came a check made out to Trout for $20,000. He decided to give all of it back to Millville’s baseball program to renovate their baseball facilities. The refurbished ballpark was renamed to “Mike Trout Field.”
“For the people that have (grown up in Millville) it’s a huge deal that this guy comes from our place. There’s a lot of loyalty and a lot of pride in where he is. And the fact that he still lives close by. In the offseason, you still see him. They appreciate that too, that he hasn’t forgot about where he’s from.”
Hallenbeck and his family make frequent trips to Anaheim to watch Trout and watch most of his games. Even now, he stays amazed at Trout’s ability to remain humble even on the biggest stage.
“The thing I’ve come to tell people that don’t know him is everything you’ve heard about him or think about him is not only true, it’s even more true than you think. None of its an act, none of its fake,” Hallenbeck said.
It has been an incredible career to say the least from the “Millville Meteor.” As he continues to pave his way among the all-time greats, he will always remain the pride of Millville.
“You would never know that he was the one that in a couple months, he’s going to sign a big contract. He doesn’t act like it, he doesn’t give that impression, he doesn’t treat other people like that. He never has,” Hallenbeck said. “He’s never once thought to tell anybody that he’s the best.”
Featured photo courtesy of Roy Hallenbeck’s Twitter