- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Michael Morse has put a lot behind him this season. He’s shed the label of bench player, and he’s gotten past a slow start by making his bat invaluable to the Washington Nationals’ lineup.

This week he added something else to the list: his former team. When Wilson Ramos’ home run brought Morse and Danny Espinosa around on a ninth-inning walk-off Tuesday night, Morse was on the winning side for the first time against the team that traded him as a minor leaguer nearly two years ago.

While Morse insisted that beating the Seattle Mariners held no sweeter significance than beating any other team, it represented something of the end of a chapter for him. In the past two years, Morse has gone from languishing in Triple-A to being a potential major league All-Star and the player with the 10th-highest batting average in the National League.

“The trade was a blessing in disguise,” Morse said.

Had Morse not been traded, his .558 slugging percentage and home runs every 16 at-bats may never have come to fruition. Morse wasn’t just a Triple-A player waiting for his shot with Seattle. He was a 26-year-old infielder who was a prospect from a since-departed regime.

“Coming out of spring training we had a new staff, new GM. They brought some of their guys in and a lot of guys got traded or released that I was playing with, and I got designated for assignment,” Morse recalled. “When I got to Triple-A, they told me ‘Hey, we’ve got a lot of prospects and they need to play,’ so, next thing you know I’m only playing like twice a week. I was like, ‘You know, this is not me.’ “

Morse considers himself a positive person. He’s a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. He comes to the plate to A-Ha’s “Take on me,” and he slaps himself on his head as he rounds first each time he hits a home run — a subconscious high-five to himself, he said. But in the early part of 2008, it was difficult for him to maintain that personality.

“Sometimes, when you’re down there [in Triple-A], you feel like no one’s watching,” he said. “It was one of those times where you really figure out who you are.”

Morse considered going to Japan to play — remembering that Seattle outfielder Ichiro Suzuki had offered to help get him on a team if he decided to do it — and he consulted with his stepfather, Stan. Both decided that staying positive and continuing to prove himself would eventually pay dividends.

“He’s been one of the most positive people in my life,” Morse said. “It was a tough time for us. He just made sure I never gave up. The biggest thing was to go down there to Triple-A and prove to them and prove to whoever it may be that I’m a big league player and I can play. I went down there with that in mind, and I did well. I was able to get traded, which was great. I love it here. I love D.C., this is family to me.”

The trade was a straight-up exchange for outfielder Ryan Langerhans, who had been playing with the Nationals’ Triple-A affiliate. Langerhans has appeared in just 117 games for the Mariners in the past three years, posting a .200 average and a .350 slugging percentage.

“We liked the way he swung the bat,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said of Morse. “We had bandied about a bunch of names, and we stuck on him. When he wasn’t the first guy they wanted to give up, we stuck on him and he was the guy we wanted them to trade. They felt they needed Langerhans enough that they gave us a guy that they thought could be a good player someday.”

With a full season’s worth of at-bats under his belt now, between 2010 and the first half of this season, Morse has hit .297 with a .536 slugging percentage, 28 home runs and 84 RBI.

“[My agent] was always telling me, ‘Mike, keep doing what you’re doing, even though nothing’s happening there, there are other teams that are watching you,’” Morse said. “In this game, you strive to be the best. You want to go out there every day, you want to have a good at-bat, you want to beat the pitcher. With that kind of mentality, it takes a lot of stress away and you’re up there just battling. Whatever happens, happens, and everything else just falls into place.”