Not long before signing a North American team sports-record $426.5 million extension this spring, Mike Trout was in the clubhouse shower following a spring training workout when Jo Adell, the Los Angeles Angels' top prospect, walked into the room.
Trout graciously motioned that a particular showerhead was open and then disappeared to towel off.
Adell accepted the invitation and lathered up. Then, suddenly, the jet stream became scalding hot. He jerked back from the spray, momentarily confused. He realized he had heard the flush of a toilet just moments earlier. Then he saw Trout peeking around the corner and howling with laughter.
"That sounds exactly like Mike," Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and Trout buddy Carson Wentz says. "I can see that for sure."
"He definitely likes his jokes," says Ron Tobolski, a high school teammate of Trout's and close friend. "That's how he is. Laid-back, likes to have fun, a funny, really nice person."
Three months later, millions richer, tethered to the Angels now for likely the rest of his career and off to another roaring start, Trout grins. He's been here long enough to notice when some things in the organization are tired and maybe don't work so well, and now he will be here long enough, he figures, to enjoy the flow when the repairs are finished.
Maybe a large segment of sporting America was shocked and bewildered when baseball's best player pledged his loyalty to the perennially underachieving Angels instead of biding his time until free agency in 2020 and finding a team both closer to his hometown and with a greater chance to win in October. But to anybody remotely close to Trout's inner circle, it was a no-brainer.
Mike Trout does not do circus acts. As he said this spring, he wanted no part of what Bryce Harper and Manny Machado went through. Leave the big top for somebody else. He appreciates loyalty and the way the Angels have had his back since the day they drafted him. He burns to win so intensely—fantasy football, NCAA basketball pools, shooting baskets in the clubhouse, anything—that Angels general manager Billy Eppler, an executive with the New York Yankees previously, says the level of competitiveness "reminds me a lot of Derek Jeter."
But even though Trout loves his Eagles, and everything Philadelphia, and treasures his time back home in the Millville, New Jersey, area during the offseasons, amateur gumshoes working his future weren't following the proper clues. The secret sauce in the fabulous life of Mike Trout is this: The separation between his work life out west and his personal life back east suits the 27-year-old two-time MVP.
"Obviously, a lot of people from home wanted me to come back east," Trout acknowledges. "We were thinking about it, my wife and I. But it's perfect to be able to go back in the offseason and have a life, be myself and spend time back in my hometown. It's always good to go back."
Except when you're in the middle of a six-month, 162-game grind.
"This game can throw you a lot of ways," Trout continues. "It's always great to go see your family and friends, but it gets crazy after a while. You see a lot of people you haven't seen in a while wanting this, wanting that. It comes along with it, but it is what it is."
Who knew that Trout was built for Anaheim?
Question is, can the Angels build for Trout?
He grins, and we're back on the Adell shower caper. Guilty or innocent?
"I use that shower all the time, so it's more me getting caught on accident," Trout says, smiling.
When Trout is anywhere near home, "it's like Mick Jagger walking around," longtime Angels television analyst Mark Gubicza says. Even at Eagles games, where Trout has a well-publicized, front-row end-zone seat near the tunnel leading from the Eagles locker room to the field, Trout's presence draws a buzz.
Twice, Trout has invited Gubicza—also a Philadelphia native and sports fan—to Eagles games. The first was a birthday gift to Gubicza when the Angels had a day off between series in Baltimore and Washington surrounding the Eagles' 2017 preseason opener. The next was in September, when Trout arranged for a private charter to fly himself, Gubicza, Angels pitcher Cam Bedrosian, bullpen coach Andrew Bailey and communications senior manager Adam Chodzko to the Eagles' season opener, which also happened to be their first game after winning the Super Bowl the previous February.
"We're flying out for that Eagles game, and, lo and behold, the pilots are coming out to see Mike, and I'm freaking out and asking, 'By the way, how high are we up here?'" Gubicza says. "They're like, '47,000 feet,' and I'm like, 'Whoa, 47,000 feet? Isn't it supposed to be like 33,000 or 37,000, and aren't you supposed to be flying this thing too?' They were like, 'Oh, we're just enjoying talking with Trout.'"
It's a common refrain. Despite kicking off the team's first-ever Super Bowl defense, Wentz, tight end Zach Ertz and others all made quick stops to visit Trout before the game.
"I'm like, 'These guys are coming up to you, and they're going to get their heads beat in in a couple of minutes!'" Gubicza says. "They thought Trouty was the coolest thing in the world, and I'm out of my mind seeing all of the Eagles guys there."
Really, says Bedrosian, "It's almost like he's a part of the Eagles team, honestly. Because everybody there knew him."
Says Wentz: "First of all, he's right next to our tunnel, so I either go dab him up or wave at him real quick. I think he's gotten a couple of footballs when we score. For him, it's something he's so passionate about, it probably brings him back to how he was raised and how he grew up. He's living a different life now, but he's still going to games with his high school buddies and maintaining all of that. He's given us shoes, he's so supportive on social media, so it's pretty cool."
The love affair between Trout and Philly sports stretches back to his days as a kid, when Sundays in the Trout household were "a party," says his father, Jeff. "We couldn't afford to go to games like now, but it was a big day, watching the Eagles. Same with Sixers games."
Mike and his father attended the 2008 World Series in Philadelphia and the championship parade.
"We love Philadelphia sports," Jeff says. "But you can't base your decision on that alone. There's so many other factors."
Like a bird following its annual migration pattern, Mike Trout's unofficial fan club flocks to Baltimore, which, at 111 miles from Millville, is the closest L.A. regularly travels to Trout's hometown. But this year for the first time, Jeff and Deb Trout skipped the Angels' weekend visit in May. Nine years into their son's MLB career, they decided instead to travel to the series just before in Detroit and Deb's native Michigan. Even for them, it is difficult to actually watch games in Camden Yards because so many friends want to visit in the stands.
"It's just a barrage of social media, Facebook, who's going, when are they going," says Roy Hallenbeck, Trout's baseball coach at Millville Senior High School. "People are all wearing Trout stuff, and the spotlight is even hotter."
The attention would only multiply if Trout were to play for the team 90 miles up Interstate 95. And attention isn't what Trout is seeking. He's married to his high school sweetheart, Jessica, and spends much of his time with her and their dogs at home (they're building a new one in Millville). He doesn't go to bars. He golfs. He fishes and hunts, including water fowl and deer with Wentz, when their schedules allow. (Trout particularly enjoyed a hunt in Wentz's native North Dakota in the fall because, among other reasons, Wentz says, "He loved the aspect that I was getting bombarded by people when we went places and he was [left alone].")
Were he to play closer to home, the free time he cherishes—which, in season, there is precious little of—would melt away with phone calls and texts, more daily requests. It would be more intense. And to survive the rigors of a 162-game schedule requires deceleration somewhere.
"I'm sure if he did come and play in Philadelphia it would eventually die down to a normal level, but at first, I think it would be pretty crazy for him in addition to playing baseball," Hallenbeck says.
Nine years into what is sure to be Trout's Hall of Fame career, from the more insulated distance of Anaheim, Mike and Jessica can stay in close touch with home and host friends periodically during the season—such as Tobolski and his wife, Rebecca, who took their daughter and some nieces and nephews for a visit with the Trouts in April. It also affords Mike a productive distance, one that allows him to keep his mind clear and not be quite as immersed in everything back home until season's end.
Compartmentalizing his life has been a success. Long ago, Jeff and Deb started noticing a change in Mike's demeanor each winter as spring training approached. By mid-February, he's ready to separate from his home life in order to go back to work.
"I think it makes you enjoy your home a little more too, when you do go back," Philadelphia's Bryce Harper says. "It's like, 'Man, this is home. This is where I want to be.' Then you go back for the season, and it's like, 'Man, this is home too.' I think just being able to go through it and go where I want to be, and now being where I am, I love it. I think he made the best decision for him and his family, and I'm happy for him."
In fact, Harper texted with Trout this winter as Philadelphia came into focus for him, quizzing his buddy on specific areas and, knowing his wife, Kayla, had just become pregnant—something the Harpers didn't publicly reveal until April—asking what it was like to grow up in the area.
Based on the tone of the questions, Trout figured early on that Harper was going to sign with the Phillies. But soon thereafter, Harper began publicly lobbying for Trout to join him there when Trout would become eligible for free agency. Truth be told, though, Harper wasn't surprised when Trout re-upped with the Angels because he sees the world through a similar lens as Trout even though they are the opposite geographically: Harper, from Las Vegas, has spent his entire career playing in the East. And when his Washington run ended, he bypassed franchises closer to home—Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego—for Philadelphia.
"That was my biggest thing about playing out West," Harper says. "I love my family and all, but being that close for that long, so many people asking about tickets, asking about this, asking about that, having so many people around all the time ... like I said, I love my family, and I love my friends, but I like going back East as well."
While Mike Trout never will be underrated, sometimes loyalty is. Which is why, while it's been frustrating to many outside of Southern California that Trout has played in only three postseason games in his career, his allegiance to the Angels remains steadfast.
"The friendships from top to bottom, Arte [Moreno, Angels owner], [Angels president John] Carpino, Billy [Eppler], the media relations staff, everybody always has my back," Trout says. "I really looked into that when it came down to this decision, and that helped.
"Obviously, if you feel anybody's against you, I could have waited and seen if another team wanted me. But I knew they love me and support me here, and I appreciate that. People don't really see that. My wife and I are the only ones who feel that, and just feeling the love and the friendships made here over the past eight years, it's been incredible."
From the day the Angels picked him 25th overall in the 2009 draft, the organization has taken care of Trout. Whether it is with a lucrative new contract or supporting his choice to not participate in the Home Run Derby or World Baseball Classic, the Angels give their superstar the space to be who he is.
"His goals and focus are on being the best version of himself he can be," Eppler says of a player who leads the American League in runs (62), on-base percentage (.466), slugging percentage (.642) and extra-base hits (41) and also ranks second in total bases (165). "He takes responsibility and also has an action plan to get himself to the point of being the best version of himself."
That involves, Eppler says, knowing "some days I need more, some days I need less. He's just got that awareness of what he needs."
Rarely did the team come to his defense more so than in July's extraordinary rebuke of Commissioner Rob Manfred a day after Manfred blamed the sport's failure to turn Trout into an even bigger star on the center fielder's intransigence toward marketing. Within 24 hours, the Angels organization fired off a statement defending Trout:
"Mike's commitment to Major League Baseball, and the fans, is extraordinary," Carpino said in an email interview with B/R. "We are confident that this will continue into the future and contribute to the commissioner's initiative to grow the game.
"As it relates to our statement, it was an easy decision as an organization to acknowledge Mike's solid character and generosity."
As those close to him ask, how much should be required of a guy, anyway? No Angel visits children's hospitals more often than Trout—visits that often go unpublicized. Nobody signs more autographs, and Eppler still can't believe how regularly Trout is out signing—especially for kids—just 10 minutes before first pitch.
"You shouldn't have to promote yourself," Angels starter Tyler Skaggs says. "You should go out and play the game the right way and let your game speak for itself. That's how you promote yourself. You shouldn't have to promote yourself on social media like, 'Oh, look how good I am.'"
Earlier this month, when a Make-A-Wish child was supposed to spend batting practice with him before it was canceled because the team was traveling that night, Trout asked that the Angels staff bring the boy into the tunnel behind the dugout 30 minutes before first pitch so he could spend uninterrupted, private time with him.
Over time, Trout has learned that kids often freeze up when they meet their heroes, so he disarms them by starting conversations: Are you excited for tonight? Do you play baseball? What position do you play? Do you want a picture?
"I look back when I was a kid and, if I got an autograph from somebody, how excited I was," Trout says. "I want to give that to every kid I see, to get that smile.
"You never know what a kid is going through. He could be having a bad day, you never know. I'm just trying to put a smile on kids' faces."
More than a face for the franchise, Trout has become part of its braintrust. Trout and Eppler live in the same Southern California neighborhood ("one is on the ocean side, one is not on the ocean side," Eppler quips). They sometimes swap restaurant recommendations—as do their wives—and they compare notes year-round—fantasy football, Trout's hunting, Eppler's surfing, Trout's Eagles, Eppler's Chargers. They have grown close enough over the years that Trout frequently will shoot the GM a late-night text about an Angels minor leaguer who had a good game. Often, Trout will simply type the player's last name with an emoji, like two eyes or a fire. Sometimes Eppler will look at an affiliate's game report, which Trout doesn't have access to, and text back details that the kid had an even better game than the box score indicated.
And since 2017, Trout has become involved in Angels drafts. When he was out with a thumb injury that year, the club brought in some top prospects—including Adell—to evaluate and asked Trout to meet them. He's also been looking at different prospects' swings on video and offering his opinion. He pays attention to the system and is comfortable that the team will win again one day soon.
So he's acquired a little bit of surf to go with his turf over the seasons, coming to love Southern California's cool evenings and beachy summer vibe in a similar yet completely different way than he loves his hunting and football when he's home for the winter. He is beloved in both places, of course, a baseball conquering hero and the kid down the street.
"When he comes in here, we still treat him like Mike from 10 years ago," says Nichole Maul, manager of Jim's Lunch, a Millville institution since 1923. "It's not any different. Just because you're worth more money than anybody in this town, he doesn't take that to his head. He drives a pickup. He's a humble, humble man."
Some days, he'll order $100 worth of takeout to fuel him and his buddies as they hunt. Other days, he'll slip in the back door and sit in a back booth, hoping for a quick meal in relative privacy. One day, the town's grapevine buzzed overtime when Trout brought Wentz in with him.
"Had a burger with some kind of special sauce that Mike told me I had to get," Wentz says. "It wasn't real healthy for me, but it tasted great."
Just like the Angels, they've got Trout's back in Millville. Why, one time several years ago, proprietor Rochelle Maul will tell you, a customer came in and asked her, is that Mike in the third booth?
"I said, 'No, that's his brother,'" Maul says. "Because he came in to eat."
He's never enjoyed the spotlight, but as he's matured, he's developed a gracefulness about it that complements his polite nature.
"Some of that attention, when he was younger, he tried to shy away from it as much as he could," Hallenbeck says. "We'd almost joke about the Mike Trout walk: Hood up, head down, walking along hoping nobody noticed him."
Now when he's home, pictures will pop up on social media with Trout at random encounters at Dick's Sporting Goods or the grocery store. While he was hesitant early in his career, he's become a natural now.
Times change, sometimes with such subtlety that you don't realize it.
"A lot of people thought it's only a matter of time [until he moved his career back East]," Jeff Trout says. "He's definitely coming. How could he not want to play here? Mike never said anything to that end, and neither did we, the family. It was him and his wife's decision. Who knows? It could have turned out differently depending on how the Angels handled things.
"There was a lot of speculation and hope and talk on the radio and in the newspapers, and among our friends. It was real."
Also real were the numbers, which would be enough for any star, especially Trout. "The fact that the Angels were willing to pay him a lot of money—it's a lot of money," Jeff says. "He's not a big spender. It's not going anywhere. He's not one of those kids who's going to buy a 200-foot yacht."
When news broke in March that Trout had re-signed with the Angels through 2030, for a short time he did take a little bit of a beating on local radio. One day, Deb came home and told Jeff, My goodness, they're really blasting away.
"It didn't come from any of our friends or anybody in town," Jeff says. "But there was some disappointment. 'I'm heartbroken, but good luck to Mike,' that sort of thing."
"It sucks when he leaves, but you know he's going there having fun doing what he wants to do," Tobolski says. "It's not like he doesn't want to be there. When he gets back, it's like normal. Like he never left, like he took a long vacation."
Says Skaggs: "He wants to go down as the best player and also as the best Angel to ever do it. ... He wants to be the guy who was Mr. Angel."
With two American League MVPs, seven All-Star appearances, two All-Star Game MVPs and statistics that already stack up alongside Hall of Famers such as Ken Griffey Jr., Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson and Hank Aaron, Trout one day undoubtedly will enter Cooperstown as the Angels' first homegrown Hall of Famer. And then, don't be surprised if he shuffles home and treats the gang to more burgers from Jim's Lunch.
"He's far beyond our reach now, but he's still our guy," says Hallenbeck, who not only has been Millville High's baseball coach for the past 21 years but also was the health and phys ed teacher in whose class Mike, then a sophomore, met Jessica, then a junior. "We take vacations out that way and see the way he is cared for, protected. ... It makes you feel good that your guy's OK."
Besides, even if he isn't wholly theirs anymore, he'll always belong to them.
"True story: Mike was a little baby, and his mother and father brought him in here and said, 'Rochelle, Jim [my late husband], come over here. This is Mikey, our little angel," Rochelle Maul says. "I swear to God they said that."
An angel before he was an Angel. Seems about right for the best Angel ever.
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.