Mike Morgan to teach baseball fundamentals to Park City youth
July 3, 2014
If you have a cell phone, chances are you’ve dealt with some phone-related issues in the past – a shattered screen, spotty service, or, as in the case of former Major League pitcher Mike Morgan, water damage.
While dealing with some flooding caused by the mid-June snowstorm at The Turf, a new baseball facility located at 1122 Center Drive, Suite D300 (right by Jupiter Bowl), Morgan’s phone became waterlogged.
Normally, though highly inconvenient, a damaged phone isn’t too much of a problem – sure, it can be expensive to replace, but it’s not a huge deal.
That wasn’t the case for Morgan. The biggest problem? He couldn’t access his contacts.
After a 25-year career in Major League Baseball, spent playing for 12 different teams, Morgan’s amassed quite the cache of friends and acquaintances in the professional ranks.
"I don’t know anyone who played in our era who doesn’t actually know him," said Chuck Crim, the bullpen coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers. "I also don’t know anybody that doesn’t like him."
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But, while fidgeting nervously with his replacement phone at the Full House Asian Bistro one afternoon, it’s clear that the professional contacts are the least of Morgan’s worries – he’s concerned about the youth ballplayers whose phone numbers were lost.
For a guy like Morgan, who seemingly remembers the name of every person he comes in contact with (including nearly every employee at Full House), having to answer the phone by asking, "Who’s this?" is almost painful.
Trying to figure out who’s calling and getting things back on track for his week of lessons is no easy task, but he’s slowly regaining the contacts he lost and now he’s back to passing on his lifetime of wisdom to the young baseball players in Park City.
Mike Morgan has been in Park City for a long time. He’s popped up on the baseball scene every now and then – a stint with Pleasant Grove High School, some time with Timpanogos High School, a cup of coffee as the pitching coach of the Park City High School baseball team last year – but he’s never felt comfortable fully re-entering the game he played professionally for 25 years.
Before, there were several issues that made him hesitant to re-emerge – a desire to spend as much time as possible with his wife and two daughters, the disinterest of kids in Park City toward baseball, trouble scheduling facilities for lessons and, he admits, a reluctance to start teaching a game that he missed playing.
But then everything changed, starting with a comment toward a 9-year-old pitcher throwing at Basin Recreation one day.
"[A dad] was working with his nine-year-old at the time," Morgan recalled. "He was the only one in there, it was kind of a mellow day. I just made myself accessible and walked by. I just watched and made a comment to the nine-year-old and the dad at the far end "
"He told him to keep his shoulder down and start his hips earlier," Brent Milner, the father of the pitcher (Beck), said. "I noticed the sophistication of the comment and I went out to the front desk and asked politely, ‘Hey, who’s this guy?’ and she told me that it was Mike Morgan. She gave me his phone number and I called him – that’s how we became friends."
Now, through Milner and The Turf, a facility Milner started as a place for Park City players to practice their craft, Morgan will team up with former Major League outfielder Robin Jennings to teach youths of Park City the fundamentals of baseball.
"Whoever comes through that door is getting taught proper baseball fundamentals – fielding, pitching, hitting," he said. "They’re going to be taught right – that’s the bottom line."
The point isn’t to revolutionize the game, Morgan quickly adds, but rather to instill the skills that have been successful since baseball was invented in the early 1800s.
"I’m just passing on baseball’s way, not Mike Morgan’s way," he said. "We’re not reinventing anything."
The end goal, Morgan says, is twofold. First, he hopes to prepare the kids he teaches for coach Lou Green and the Park City High School baseball program.
In time, Morgan hopes his efforts, along with those of Jennings, Milner and other current and former professional athletes who will teach guest clinics at The Turf, lead to some trophies on the shelves of Park City players of all ages.
"Three years? Maybe we’ll have a couple Little League championships by then, getting these kids ready for a state championship at the high school," he said.
Secondly, Morgan wants to help baseball players grow to a level where they can earn collegiate scholarships through baseball.
"That’s going to be important – I want to get these kids a free education," he said. "If they can go to school and work their brains, which are probably going to last longer than their elbows and shoulders and bodies, playing baseball in college and maybe, maybe getting drafted – might be from Park City, might be from Heber, might be from Kamas – a lot of these kids can get a free education because they can play a little baseball."
Now Morgan has a place to call his own where he won’t have to worry about field-hopping, finding an open batting cage or any other problem that’s hampered his teaching efforts in years past.
The Turf, which will be home to the Mike Morgan Pitching Academy, the Robin Jennings Hitter’s Circle and a youth baseball team, the Skullcandy Crushers, is opening for business in July.
And when Morgan needs some help, whether it’s for a guest clinic or some extra lessons, he’ll have plenty of people ready and willing to answer his call because of the lives he’s touched over the years.
It seems as if everyone who came across Morgan during his lengthy playing career has a story or two (or 20) about Morgan and the impact he made in their lives.
Robin Jennings knew Morgan also lived in Park City, but hadn’t run into him for the four or five years he’d been in town.
One day, outside a Chevron station in the early morning, Jennings saw the former MLB pitcher on his way elk hunting.
"Robin Jennings – left-handed outfielder, nice swing," Jennings recalls Morgan saying. "Then he goes, ‘I might have some balls in the car, we can get some BP [batting practice] in right now.’ I hadn’t seen him in four or five years and here he is wanting to throw to me in the parking lot."
"I’m always looking to play catch with someone," Morgan laughed.
That’s the way Morgan is -whether it’s the youth players he coaches or a player he faced in the big leagues 25 years ago, he remembers everyone and makes time for everybody.
And you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t remember Morgan, who is often referred to as "MoMan" by his friends.
Sitting in a booth at Full House, Jennings twirls his napkin in his hands as he recounts another meeting with the MoMan during his playing days.
"It would have been 1995. I was in Double-A, which would have been in Orlando, Florida, at Tinker Field, backed up against the Citrus Bowl," Jennings says. "We had heard that we were going to get a couple pitchers down from the big leagues. One of them was MoMan, in his 16th year in the big leagues.
"Here we are – it’s 110 degrees at Tinker Field. MoMan comes in and throws his couple innings and comes out because he’s on a pitch limit or whatever. We came in [to the locker room] after the game – we’re used to eating Double-A spreads, which would most likely have been some local fast food thing put in the buffet warmers – and we’ve got ribs, chicken, beans and coleslaw from the nicest barbecue place in Orlando, courtesy of MoMan."
Morgan’s generosity continued the next few nights as well.
"I couldn’t tell you the exact number of days he was with us," Jennings said. "But I can tell you every single player on that team probably gained weight while he was there. We weren’t used to eating that well."
Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly wasn’t surprised to hear that Morgan took care of the younger players, as he experienced some of the MoMan’s generosity when their friendship began 30 years ago.
"We met in Double-A, in Nashville," Mattingly said. "We’ve been good friends ever since. He beat me to [the] New York [Yankees] by a year and then he was gone and I was there. But Mike was very generous. When we were in Nashville, he’d already been to the big leagues."
(Morgan began his career in 1978 with the Oakland A’s, making his first MLB appearance just five days after being selected in the first round of the 1978 MLB Draft.)
"He took care of the younger players," Mattingly continued. "Mike was always buying dinner."
The stories aren’t all about Morgan’s generosity – though there are enough of those to fill a book. Glenn Sherlock, the current third-base coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks, recalls a time when the right-hander couldn’t be stopped from helping a friend.
"This was either in 2000 or 2001 and Todd Stottlemyre was coming back from a serious shoulder injury," Sherlock said. "He was pitching against the Padres in San Diego in his first game back – it was an important game for us, getting [Stottlemyre] back on the mound.
"He and Mike were good friends and he said, ‘I’ve got to get in this game and save this game for my buddy.’ Buck Showalter [the Diamondbacks’ manager at the time], called down and got MoMan up. While the inning was still going on, he got Greg Swindell [a lefty pitcher] up, too, because he saw Ryan Klesko [a left-handed hitter] warming up. He called down later to tell me to send Swindell in, but MoMan had already sprinted in from the bullpen to get in the game. It was that important of a game for him to get in and he wanted to get that save."
And Crim added a story about how much of a warrior Morgan was on the mound, a mindset the 54-year-old hopes to pass on to the players he coaches.
"One game in Florida, it was a day game against the Marlins," Crim said of he and Morgan’s time with the Cubs. "You would not believe how hot it was. I couldn’t believe a guy could grind out a game like that – he was sweating bullets. Just about every inning, he’d come back to the dugout and say he was about to pass out – but I think he threw seven shutout innings."
Mattingly has no doubt that Morgan will be a great teacher for the youth of Park City.
"It’s about passion," he said. "Mike loves the game and he played a long time. He’s had lots of success for a long time. He’s a hard worker and his love for the game makes him a great teacher. He cares about people and cares about the kids – he’s told me so many stories about different kids he’s coaching."
Morgan, who also does some coaching with the Arizona Diamondbacks during Spring Training, has a coaching style that translates well to all ages, 4 to 40, Sherlock added.
"He came to Spring Training with us this past season and spent a few weeks working with our young players," he said. "He’s got a lot of experience and a lot to offer. He’s really eager to pass that along to the next generation."
And Morgan is definitely ready to impart his wisdom to the young players of Park City.
On Tuesday afternoon, Morgan was throwing batting practice to a couple of Park City youth players, firing fastballs, changeups, curveballs and sliders. In addition to his knowledge of the game, the baseball players in Park City will also benefit from the fact that, as he fires pitch after pitch after pitch, it looks like Morgan’s right arm might just have another 25 years of pitches left in it.
How, you ask, did this article about building a baseball facility get this far along and not once reference Field of Dreams, one of the most popular baseball movies of all-time? Well, ask no longer – here it is, Morgan’s take on the oft-quoted line, "If you build it, they will come."
"I’ve got a place to teach now, because of Brent Milner," he said with a smile on his face. "The Turf – a place for kids to come and get good at baseball, and life, too. It’s about happiness. If you build something, they will come.
"We’ve got a warehouse-type building right there next to Jupiter Bowl and it’s a dream come true for me and this community. And it’s filling up. It’ll be filled up this winter, that’s for darn sure."
To schedule a lesson with Mike Morgan or Robin Jennings at The Turf, email email@example.com.
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