(Photo by Associated Press)
Mike Morse still has a touch of Seattle in him. When I talked to him yesterday in the Nationals clubhouse, he was wearing a Beast Mode t-shirt.
“I love the Seahawks,” he said enthusiastically.
Mike Morse is often enthusiastic, which is one reason why he was a very popular player among his teammates — and the media — when he was with the Mariners.
But it took his trade to the Nationals on June 28, 2009, for Morse to get the chance he had been waiting for — to play every day. Even that ride hasn’t been completely smooth. After a solid year in 2010 as a part-time player (.289/.352/.519, 15 homers, 41 RBIs in 98 games), he won the regular left-field job coming out of spring training. But a minor knee injury and lackluster numbers caused him to lose the job. Everything changed on May 22, however, when first baseman Adam LaRoche got hurt, and Morse took over at first base. Since then, he has been one of the most productive players in baseball, hitting .339 with 11 homers, 32 RBIs and a 1.115 OPS over that 29-game span.
“I’m fortunate enough to get an opportunity here to play,” he said. “That’s the only thing I’ve been missing. I loved playing in Seattle. I loved the team, loved the city and everything. But I got a great opportunity here, and I’m going to go with it.”
Having bench coach John McLaren and manager Jim RIggleman, both former managers of his in Seattle, on board in Washington as advocates has helped, he said.
“Mac and Jim Riggleman, they’re great people and I’ve learned so much from them. The biggest thing is they believe in me,” Morse said. “That’s a big part.”
It appeared Morse’s big chance in Seattle was going to come under McLaren in 2008 when he made the team with a tremendous spring and was going to share time in right with Brad Wilkerson, who was released in late April. But Morse separated his shoulder diving for a ball on April 13, and missed the rest of the year.
“I felt like I was going to get an opportunity. I really did,” he said. “It just so happened I got hurt. I had to work myself back. I never gave up on myself. The next year, 2009, I got designated (for assignment). I went Triple-A. Instead of giving up, I just said, ‘I’m going to show them they made a mistake.’ I got traded at the half, came here, and I started fresh.”
Morse was in Tacoma when manager Daren Brown told him he had been traded to the Nationals for Ryan Langerhans .. Morse was hitting .312 with 10 homers and 52 RBIs for the Rainiers, and thought the news from Brown was going to be a major-league promotion.
“That was when Beltre got hurt,” he said. ” I thought I was going to Seattle to play third, but then he told me I got traded. At that point I said, ‘You know, all my hard work I did here in Tacoma paid off. I’m going to the East Coast now to play. I’m going to show them a major-league baseball player.’ ”
Morse, now 29, said he never lost that belief.
“That’s one thing, even when I wasn’t playing, when I was sitting on the bench in Seattle, I always told myself, I should be out there every day playing. I wish I was out there every day playing. Especially in 2008, especially in spring training. Just being out there playing with Ichiro, and learning how he plays. I felt like I was going into the season ready to play and especially play every day. Unfortunately I got hurt. And now I’m here.”
Morse developed a close friendship with Ichiro while he was in Seattle.
“Ichiro is one of those guys I was fortunate enough to meet in baseball, but the relationship off the field is even better,” he said. “He’s just a top-notch guy and he’s a guy you can actually watch off the field and on the field, kind of like a Raul Ibanez. These guys are such family guys, and the way they carry themselves is impeccable.
“I remember one year in spring training I got invited to his house for dinner, which was just awesome. We just talked. We talked baseball, and I really got to know him.”