Growing up in Millville, N.J., about 45 miles outside of Philadelphia, the Trout children were raised to be diehard Eagles fans. Every Sunday, they’d gather around the TV; Dad would make meatballs, maybe some deer meat, and they’d invite over friends. At halftime, the kids would go outside in their Eagles jerseys to run around and play.
Only on special occasions would they actually go to games. Mom was a preschool teacher and Dad taught high school history, and tickets were expensive. But one trip stands out all these years later. Jeff Trout took his son Mike, who was maybe 11 at the time, to a game at Veterans Stadium. They were sitting in the famed 700 level in 10-degree weather, surrounded by “really, really rowdy people,” Jeff recalls. After one Eagles touchdown, one especially crazy fan—who had a bottle of schnapps on him and was “really hammered” by this point, Jeff says—turned around to celebrate with them. The man shook young Mike Trout and shouted:
“DO YOU BELIEVE THIS SH--, MAN? DO YOU BELIEVE THIS SH--?”
Flash forward 15 years, and Mike Trout is one of the best athletes on the planet. He’s an All Star outfielder for the Los Angeles Angels, a two-time American League MVP and already a virtual lock to make the MLB Hall of Fame—at 26 years old. He’s also an Eagles season ticket holder and one of their biggest fans. It’s a juxtaposition that we don’t see often in sports—athletes of Trout’s caliber may cheer for their hometown teams from afar, but few actually put themselves out there and act so openly and unabashedly like … fans. Imagine Joe DiMaggio going to San Francisco 49ers games, sitting in the front row, cheering every play.
That’s how Trout is with his Eagles, and so, unsurprisingly, there’s been a spotlight cast on him the last few weeks, as the top-seeded Eagles beat the Falcons and then the Vikings at home to reach Super Bowl LII. The Angels received so many media requests of reporters wanting to talk to Trout about the Eagles that they set up a conference call last week. One reporter even asked Trout for a prediction on the game. Trout said that the Eagles would beat the Patriots, 31–24, thanks to “a late interception by [Tom] Brady.” Spoken like a true South Jersey boy.
This wasn’t an act, either. This fandom, this love of football, was conditioned in him from a young age. In addition to teaching, Jeff served as the offensive line coach for more than 20 years at Millville High School, right down the street from the family’s house. Mike came to all of the practices and got to know the players. He was handing out water bottles on the sidelines during games, and he was in the locker room for the pregame speeches and the postgame celebrations.
“He just took it all in, and he just loved it,” Jeff says.
One season when Millville was really struggling on offense, Mike, who was maybe 8- or 9-years-old at the time, wanted to help. He pulled out a notebook, drew up some plays and asked his father to pass them along to the head coach, Dave Heck. “It was a bunch of papers and there were lines going everywhere,” Heck recalls, laughing.
Around that time, Mike started pee-wee football. He played quarterback his entire football career, simply because his coaches always wanted their best athlete touching the ball on every play—and he had a strong arm from baseball, too. “Once he got in the open, he could outrun just about anybody,” Jeff says. The only issue was that he was a bit small. As the starting quarterback of the Millville High freshman team, he was about 5' 7", 130 pounds. He was still a few months away from his first major growth spurt.
That season, everyone agrees that Trout took a beating. The freshman team only had about 25 players, and their offensive line was a bit shaky. During one game in particular, Joe DeMarco, the freshmen head coach, considered taking Mike out for his own safety—“We’re going to get [him] killed!” DeMarco told an assistant—but Mike refused. To counter that, the coaches decided to just call run plays. But Mike convinced them to let him to keep throwing. “Man, they hit me good on that one,” he’d tell DeMarco in jest, coming off the field.
The best moment of Trout’s football career happened to come in his last game ever. The Millville freshmen were playing Vineland, their rival from the next town over, on Thanksgiving day. Mike understood what the rivalry meant to the town and to the school—it was their version of Michigan-Ohio State, Auburn-Alabama. If the team went winless and then beat Vineland, people would consider it a good season. And so Mike came up with an idea. He wanted to start the game with a trick play, to catch Vineland by surprise. On the first snap, he tossed the ball right to the running back, who then tossed the ball back to Mike—a flea flicker. Mike threw a bomb 50 yards downfield to a wide-open receiver. Touchdown Millville.
Mike was grinning wide when he found coach on the sideline. “Told ya,” he said.
Millville beat Vineland that day by a few touchdowns, and soon after Mike retired from football for good. He was starting to play fall baseball and focus his time there. After Mike signed his first baseball contract, one of his first big purchases was Eagles season tickets. Then in 2016, he upgraded to six seats on the field level, near the South end zone. It was his way to stay connected to football, to the region and to his family and friends. Now his seats were close enough that players hand him footballs after they score. To his credit, Trout says that he gives most of the balls away to children. “I don’t just keep them and put them in my bedroom or anything,” he jokes.
Trout has something better than a few footballs. Over the last few years, he’s befriended Carson Wentz, the Eagles’ star quarterback. They’ve even gone duck hunting a few times. “They’ve got a lot of things in common,” Jeff Trout says. “They’re both kind of down-to-earth guys. They both like to hunt and fish, the outdoors. … They’re really competitive when they hunt, too. They break each other’s stones a little bit when somebody misses.”
“I still think he’s the MVP,” Trout said on his conference call the other day, even though pundits believe the award will go to Brady. “It was hard to watch when he went down.”
Still, like a true fan, Trout didn’t lose hope. He bought three extra tickets for the NFC championship game, bringing his total to nine, and was there in his normal spot in the South end zone, yelling and cheering, wearing a dog mask given to him by Lane Johnson. When Nick Foles hit Alshon Jeffery for a 53-yard touchdown in the second quarter, Jeffery caught the pass about 10 feet in front of Trout and his entourage. Even in the excitement, Jeffery spotted Trout and shouted his way, “LET’S GO! … LET’S GO!” After the game, Trout stuck around for the celebration, and Wentz, Jeffery and a few others came to pay their respects and give him a hug.
He’d come a long way from the 700 section of the Vet.