Mike Trout is the best player in baseball, the starting centerfielder for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, a two-time American League most valuable player, a five-time winner of the Silver Slugger Award, a six-time all-star. The only thing about him that matters now, though, is that he is an Eagles fan. It matters so much, in fact, that the Angels, because they were inundated with media requests to speak to Trout about being an Eagles fan, arranged a conference call Tuesday so that Trout could speak about being an Eagles fan.
A Millville, N.J., native, Trout is not the only current or former athlete with Philadelphia ties who has thrown support to the Eagles during the team's run to the Super Bowl. Gabe Kapler, the Phillies' new manager, has called the Eagles inspiring. Later in the NFC championship game on Sunday, Charles Barkley wrapped Jeffrey Lurie in a bear hug. During the Eagles' nine-day stint on the West Coast in early December, Kobe Bryant gave them a pep talk. These sorts of connections and reconnections happen around successful professional sports franchises all the time. We're just not used to them happening around one of the professional sports franchises here, for obvious reasons.
Trout's connection is different, though. It's organic. His father, Jeff, is an Eagles fan, which led to Trout's becoming an Eagles fan, which led to Trout's purchase of Eagles season tickets a few years ago. Which led to his friendships with several players, particularly Carson Wentz and Zach Ertz. Which led to his sitting behind one of the end zones Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field and wearing a dog mask – courtesy of Lane Johnson – and screaming in euphoria throughout the Eagles' 38-7 victory over the Vikings, just like the other 70,000 fans in the stands with him.
"I've never been part, as a sports fan, of the atmosphere there the other night," he said. "I think when that pick-six [by Patrick Robinson] happened in the first quarter, it was probably the loudest I've ever been a part of as a sports fan."
The fascination with Trout's fascination with the Eagles is easy enough to understand. His fandom plays into our regional pride and into all the personality traits and psychoses and insecurities that Philadelphians and Philadelphia sports fans share. Mike Trout isn't watching the Eagles from his mansion in Southern California. He's not even watching the Eagles from a luxury suite at the Linc. He's watching the Eagles from the bleachers at the Linc, because that's where the real fans are watching the Eagles. And the fact that Mike Trout watches the Eagles from the bleachers at the Linc proves that, even though he is better than everyone else who is playing Major League Baseball right now, Mike Trout doesn't think he is better than anybody else, and he especially doesn't think he's better than Eagles fans, because Mike Trout grew up a true Eagles fan and he never forgot where he came from. And in loving the Eagles, Mike Trout shows that, in at least some small way and maybe in a very big way, he loves us, too, and we love being loved by the best player in baseball in the same way that, say, Sally Field loved being loved by Oscar voters, because it makes us feel better about ourselves.
But there's another piece to this, too, a question and a measure of hope that flavor any discussion about Trout and Philadelphia. If he loves the Eagles that much, and if he loves the area so much, wouldn't he love the chance to play for the Phillies? "I'm an Eagles fan; I obviously grew up a Philly sports fan," he said Tuesday. "I love playing in Anaheim. Obviously, I've got a couple of years left on my contract, but I love the city of Anaheim and obviously the West Coast."
In the most obvious sense – in just about every sense, actually – it's a silly question. Trout has three years left on the six-year, $144.5-million contract he signed with the Angels in 2014. He isn't eligible to become a free agent until 2021, and the combination of players and prospects that the Phillies or any team would have to surrender to acquire him in a trade would be prohibitive. But people cling to that question – ask the media who cover the Phillies; we have the emails and tweets to prove it – as if it were perfectly reasonable, even natural or expected, that Trout would demand a trade or make his free-agency decision based on a desire to sing the Eagles' fight song in a restaurant without getting stared at. Yes, I did actually turn down a $350-million offer from the Dodgers so I could go hunting with Carson more often and be there for the Birds' first public workout at the Linc in August. Does that make me weird or something?