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. He set numerous baseball records before returning to take over the program. Now six years removed from the program, his youngest son, Mike, was about to continue the legacy starting in the spring of 2006.
Playing for Millville High School was, at the time, all Mike ever wanted to do.
He 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,” said Roy Hallenbeck, who coached Trout during his high school years. “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. His energy was a bit too much at times. He just couldn’t relax and felt immediate pressure trying to live up to his father’s name.
“He was throwing balls all over the place,” Hallenbeck said.
Hallenbeck had been coaching since his graduation from Springfield College in 1993, but was entering just his seventh season at the helm of Millville.
“(Springfield College) is where all the seeds were planted,” he recalled. ““I wasn’t the type of player that this institution remembers, but I remember them.”
He can recollect every single room he ever lived in on campus as a testament to the impression that Springfield left on him.
“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 and the waning moments of his baseball career used to occupy.
Hallenbeck first started his coaching at Drexel University as a hitting coach before taking a full-time job at Millville teaching physical education and serving as an assistant under Jeff Trout.
Now, 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 — a major leap of maturity.
“That happens once to most kids. With (Mike), it happened every year,” Hallenbeck said.
Trout returned every single season exponentially better than the last. His presence among the state of New Jersey grew. No matter the opposition, Trout was better than everyone, according to Hallenbeck.
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.
His speed was being wasted playing shortstop. Mike could really set himself apart in the outfield.
Despite all that, he was still a better player than before, hitting .531, driving 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. It was against a weak opponent, and the conference was all but won. Hallenbeck even planned to leave Trout out of the lineup.
“He had full excuse.”
Trout drove to Yankee Stadium and completed the workout. Directly after, Jeff Trout texted Hallenbeck’s assistant.
Don’t fill out the lineup card. He’s coming home.
“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,” Hallenbeck said. “It makes us feel good as coaches, that this must be a pretty decent environment if he wanted to come back so badly.”
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 the development of an MLB draft pick.
Nine years later, 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 American League 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.
“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,” Hallenbeck said. “If he could be an everyday Major Leaguer, then that’s going to be something special. He far surpassed that.”
Winning the Rookie of the Year award means Trout got a $20,000 bonus check. He decided to give all of it back to Millville’s baseball program to renovate their baseball facilities. The refurbished ballpark is now called “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.”
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.
“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. “He’s never once thought to tell anybody that he’s the best.”
The “Millville Meteor” is just getting started. As he continues to pave his way among the all-time greats, he will always remain the pride of Millville.
“In the offseason, you still see him,” Hallenbeck said. “He hasn’t forgot about where he’s from.”
Featured photo courtesy of Roy Hallenbeck’s Twitter