- ‘Gay Jeans’ that fade into rainbow-colored denim created
- Divided court strikes down big porn award
- Jimmy Carter: Don’t hurt Russian people with sanctions
- Oldest ex-MLB player dies in Cuba, 2 days shy of 103rd birthday
- ‘Top Gun’ for drones: Squadrons of carrier-based killers have Navy’s approval
- Bill Clinton to endorse Charlie Rangel for re-election
- Pfc. Bradley Manning is now Pfc. Chelsea Manning: Court says so
- Secret base U.S. special forces used to train Libyans now under terrorist control: report
- 9th suspect in N.C. kidnapping turns self in to FBI
- L.A. sheriff admits to testing flyover spy program without notifying residents
Spark on any surface
Like most 7-year-olds, Nyjer Morgan dreamed of one day becoming a professional athlete. Just not the kind of athlete anyone would expect - or the kind of athlete he has become today.
Morgan didn’t dream of playing center field in the major leagues. He dreamt of hoisting the Stanley Cup at center ice.
Yes, the Washington Nationals’ new spark-plug leadoff man wanted to play hockey. Actually, he did play hockey, spending four seasons in the Canadian junior leagues before turning his attention full time to baseball.
For plenty of kids who grew up in Canada, the Upper Midwest or New England, that wouldn’t seem like such an unusual story. Morgan, though, grew up in San Jose, Calif., where hockey barely registered on anyone’s radar screen, let alone a 7-year-old black kid.
But from the moment he watched the 1988 Winter Olympic Games on television, Morgan was captivated by the sport.
“I told my dad I wanted to play,” he said. “Went to the local sign-ups and then went from there.”
There’s only so much top-level ice hockey a kid can play in San Jose, so at 16, Morgan took his game north of the border. He spent the next four years bouncing around several Canadian junior league teams, including the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League, a breeding ground for future NHL stars.
Though he scored two goals in his debut game, Morgan (an aggressive, intense forward) wasn’t quite skilled enough to play at that level, and he was released after only seven games. Knowing he needed to go to school, he hooked up with the baseball coach at Walla Walla Community College and wound up starting a new and ultimately far more lucrative career.
With his speed, ability to track down fly balls to the gaps and talent on the basepaths, Morgan was a natural on the diamond. He didn’t draw much attention coming out of a tiny community college in Washington but the Pittsburgh Pirates made him their 33rd round draft pick in 2002.
Seven years later, he finally found himself with a starting job on a big league roster. And following his trade to the Nationals last week, the 29-year-old now finds himself as the leadoff man and center fielder.
Hockey, though, is always in his thoughts. When the Pirates had an off-day last April, Morgan and then-teammate Nate McLouth went to Mellon Arena and skated with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“He looked good,” said McLouth, who grew up in Muskegon, Mich., playing on outdoor ponds. “You could tell he was pretty good back in the day when he played.”
And when the Penguins, fresh off their Stanley Cup victory over the Detroit Red Wings, brought the famed trophy to PNC Park a few days later, Morgan was practically moved to tears.
“The whole thing gave me the willies,” he said at the time. “Honestly, I got really emotional. That’s our team, from our city, and I grew up with hockey as my first love. When you’re a kid playing hockey, that’s your dream, to see the Cup, to touch the Cup, and there it was right in front of me.”
Now that he’s living in the District, perhaps someone will gently point out to Morgan that the Penguins aren’t exactly popular in these parts and he’ll switch allegiance to the Capitals.
No matter what team he roots for, Morgan’s hockey mentality makes him a better baseball player. He tracks down fly balls with the same burst of speed as a winger on a breakaway. He takes out shortstops as if he were checking an opponent into the boards. And he plays with the kind of underdog mentality that only comes from a life spent defying the odds.
“I ain’t even supposed to be here,” he said. “I just think having myself be able to open up some eyes and being able to come to an organization that wants me, that’s really special.”
About the Author
By Andrew P. Napolitano
Obama's veil of secrecy is pierced
- 'Top Gun' for drones: Squadrons of carrier-based killers have Navy's approval
- Pentagon plans to replace flight crews with 'full-time' robots
- Kansas will nullify local regulation of guns
- Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy hailed as patriot, ripped as lawless deadbeat
- America is an oligarchy, not a democracy or republic, university study finds
- Opposition rising to Colorado gun control laws
- CARSON: When government looks more like foe than friend
- Paul Ryan to meet with black lawmakers after 'inner cities' flap
- Georgia's new carry law a big win for gun rights
- Tactical advantage: Russian military shows off impressive new gear
Top 10 handguns in the U.S.
Celebrity deaths in 2014