Friday, December 26, 2008

Former Viper Morgan Making His Way In Majors:

This is in todays Morning Star Newspaper:

Morgan making his way in majors

Published: December 25, 2008 6:00 PM

Chances of playing Major League Baseball, after being a 33rd-round draft pick, are slim at best.
But then there’s the case of Nyjer Morgan, 28, picked in the 2002 MLB entry draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The former hockey-playing Californian, a defenceman with the Enderby-based North Okanagan Kings of the Kootenay International Junior B League, who also had stints with the BCHL’s Vernon Lakers, simply kept working and working at baseball.
Morgan, who billeted with Ken and Brenda Austring during his North Okanagan stint, reached the Majors as a September call-up in 2007 after five years and five levels of minor-league play. He was a fourth outfielder with the Pirates, called upon to pinch-hit late in games.
“Being asked to pinch-hit is the toughest job to do, because you don’t get a feel for the game,” said Morgan, who singled off Milwaukee’s Matt Wise in his first Major League at-bat.
Morgan, who recently spent a few weeks visiting friends in Vernon, began 2008 with the Pirates as a fourth outfielder, but was sent down to AAA Indianapolis. There, he had to dig deep to break out of an 0-21 slump.
“It’s a struggle, that’s where you find out if you’re ready,” said the six-foot, 175-pound Morgan, referring to the league below the Majors where pitchers are routinely clocking in the 90s, and painting corners with fastballs. “You have to be mentally strong. You’re getting beat by mid-80s fastballs and think to yourself ‘what’s going on?’”
The Pirates never lost faith in the San Francisco native, who left home at 16 and played four years of junior hockey in Canada. They called Morgan back to the big leagues. He appeared in 58 games with the Bucs, batting .294 with seven RBIs and nine stolen bases.
His favourite pitcher to hit against was baseball’s latest multi-millionaire, CC Sabathia. Morgan faced the big lefty when Sabathia, who just signed a seven-year, $161 million dollar deal with the New York Yankees, was a member of the Milwaukee Brewers.
The one pitcher who gave Morgan grief was Cincinnati Reds phenom Edison Volquez.
“He had a changeup that just dropped off the table,” said Morgan, who garnered most of his playing time with the Pirates well out of playoff contention, a common theme in Pittsburgh. The Pirates, who last won the World Series in 1979, have endured 17 straight losing seasons.
“When you’re eliminated from the playoffs with one month to go, it’s hard to get up for games,” said Morgan. “But you have to do it if you’re doing something you love for a living.”
Despite the constant lack of success, the Pirates are a close group, though they lost one of the their true young superstars, Trail’s Jason Bay, when the Bucs dealt the outfielder to the Boston Red Sox.
“We used to talk about how I used to put a beat on his hometown Trail Smoke Eaters,” laughed Morgan, who keeps in touch with current Pittsburgh Penguin, Vernon native Eric Godard. The two know each other from their junior hockey playing days.
And while Morgan thinks the Pirates are a couple of players away from ending the streak of losing seasons, he loves it in Steeltown.
“It’s awesome, a sports-driven, blue-collar city,” he said. “Pittsburgh is a baseball city with all of the history with (Roberto) Clemente and the Negro Leagues.
“The fans are just waiting for us to climb out of the cellar. We’ve got a good team, we’re just a few pieces away from getting into meaningful games in September.”
His favourite road place to play is Wrigley Field in Chicago, “because of all the history, it’s classic, old-school,” and the toughest place to play is in his hometown, San Francisco.
“It’s back home, you got the whole family watching, there is a lot of pressure to do good in front of the family.”
A member of the Pirates’ winter carnival that toured around Pennsylvania, Morgan simply likes to releax in the off-season. On his trip back to the Okanagan, catching up with friends Waylon Folliott, Nathan Mackintosh and others, he spent Sundays cheering on his beloved San Francisco 49ers.
Morgan will join his teammates for spring training in Bradenton, Fla., on Feb. 17. The Pirates start their regular season April 6 in St. Louis.

No comments: