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Monday, August 20, 2012

Interview: Russ Morman had big ML debut, just played game

Russ Morman in dugout
Fresno Grizzlies hitting coach Russ Morman in the Fresno dugout before a late-July 2012 game at Chukchansi Park. (G21D Photo)

Russ Morman autographed 1990 Omaha Royals cardFRESNO, CA - Russ Morman just went out and played. It was his major league debut, one of the biggest thrills of his life.

Then, with the game over, came the reporters.

"I was coming off the field and I just absolutely get surrounded by media," Morman told The Greatest 21 Days recently. Then came the question, "'Do you realize you're just the second person in all of baseball to do this?' I'm like, 'no.'"

"I had no idea. I was just playing a game and whatever happened, happened, and you get all these questions afterward."

What the reporters were asking about was his performance. He picked up three hits in four at bats, one of them a home run. All in his first major league game.

The really special thing that happened, the one that put him in the books as only the second person to do it, was that two of those hits, came in the same inning. Billy Martin was the other, in 1950.

Morman led off the fourth with his home run then, nine batters later, he hit a single to center, knocking in another run. All in his major league debut.
Fresno's Charlie Culberson at bat July 27 at Chukchansi Park, his final appearance before a trade, as hitting coach Russ Morman, upper right, is in the dugout. (G21D Photo)
Morman spoke with The Greatest 21 Days in late July at Fresno, Ca.'s Chukchansi Park, where Morman serves for 2012 as the AAA Fresno Grizzlies' hitting coach.

He covered his origins growing up outside Kansas City, how he came to play baseball, instead of hockey or basketball, his quick rise through the minors to get to the majors and his long efforts to get back.

Part 1: Playing A Game | Part 2: That Guy

Morman's playing career was one that spanned 17 seasons, nine of those with time in the big leagues. But, in those nine big league seasons, Morman's playing time amounted to just 207 total games.

Morman grew up in Independence, Mo., a hockey fan. He recalled frequently going to Kansas City Blues games, the minor league club of the St. Louis Blues, grabbing a hockey stick or two that came over the glass.

He would then use those sticks to hon his hockey game, and learn how to shoot the puck both right-handed and left-handed. "You get whatever comes off the ice," Morman recalled. "So if you get a right-handed stick or a left-handed stick, you take it home and you practice with whatever you get."

Morman's hockey career, though, ended when he missed a hockey camp. Of all the reasons to miss a hockey camp, Morman missed his, he recalled, because he got stung by a swarm of wasps.

Fresno's Chukchansi Park in July 2012. Russ Morman serves at Chukchansi as hitting coach for the Fresno Grizzlies in 2012. (G21D Photo)
Morman's sporting focus soon turned to two other sports, baseball and basketball. He was good enough out of high school for his hometown Royals to offer him a contract as an undrafted free agent. Morman, though, declined.

He declined again the next January, when the Royals took him in the seventh round of the January draft out of Iowa Western Community College.

Morman went to Iowa Western following another player from his high school there. After his freshman year, he decided to focus on baseball, concluding his height and size would be a better asset there.

That was also when he started looking for a four-year school. The four-year school, Wichita State, found him.

Coming out of a college All-Star game where the Wichita State coachs was looking at another player, the coaches, including head coach Gene Stephenson, spotted Morman, and, after seeing him play again a night or two later, offered him a scholarship on the spot.

"It was tremendous, actually it was very good because going down to Wichita felt like being at home," Morman recalled. "I had great coaches, obviously Gene being there, having the program going and everything.

"It was a great experience for me and really launched me into being able to realize where I kind of fit in in terms of competition."

The AAA Fresno Grizzlies batting early in the game July 27 at Chukchansi Park in Fresno. Russ Morman first made AAA as a player in 1985 at Buffalo. (G21D Photo)
With the Shockers, Morman helped the team get all the way to the 1982 College World Series championship game. That year and the next year, Morman started catching the eye of more scouts.

Going into the 1983 draft, Morman wasn't sure where he'd go. He recalled the Giants calling the night before, asking if he'd ever played catcher. Morman said he had, but not since he was 14.

When the draft actually came, though, it was the White Sox who took him. They took him in the first round, 28th overall.

"I was totally amazed, I really was," Morman said of his selection. "It was a very exciting time and then going through the trials and tribulations of negotiating a contract and then getting out and getting on the field and starting my professional career."

With the negotiations done, Morman was on his way to being a White Sox. He also started pretty far along that way, at AA Glens Falls.

Morman recalled getting used to the bus trips. More importantly, he recalled, he had to get used to failure.

"Really, it's more dealing with the failure," Morman recalled, "because it's night in and night out. There's nobody that's going to hit 1.000, and you're not hitting .400 anymore or .500 because the talent just doesn't let you do that. So being able to handle that transition of everybody's just as good as you are and you still have to go out there and prove once again that you have some talent."

Morman, though, started off slowly. He hit .245 in 71 games at Glens Falls that year. For 1984, he stepped backward, to single-A Appleton.

Morman said he understood why he moved backward. He didn't really play good enough to go back to Glens Falls. He went on to help Appleton to the Midwest League championship that year.

He returned to Glens Falls for 1985, also getting a look at AAA Buffalo. He then went on to Buffalo full time to start 1986. Then, by August 1986, he was in Chicago picking up his first three major league hits.

Go to Part 2, Russ Morman tried to fill bigs role, be that guy

Part 1: Playing A Game | Part 2: That Guy

Note: This was the fourth of 10 interviews picked up on The Greatest 21 Days' late July 2012 trip to central and southern California.

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