Morse's code: crack lineup, forget the past
The next chapter in his baseball career is all Mike Morse has on his mind as the Mariners prepare for their first full-squad workout of...
Seattle Times staff reporter
PEORIA, Ariz. — The next chapter in his baseball career is all Mike Morse has on his mind as the Mariners prepare for their first full-squad workout of spring training.
Forget about steroids, apologies and other character tests. Don't talk to him about Andy Pettitte, Eric Gagne, Paul Lo Duca, or anyone else who comes forward to add to the list of mea culpas, sincere or contrived, witnessed this week. Morse had his moment in steroid purgatory four years ago, apologized and paid his price, over and over again.
He has moved on and figures others have too, and will simply judge him on the baseball player he knows is inside the body. Morse has worked hard at conditioning himself physically, but more importantly, mentally, in an effort to finally crack the team's lineup in what he calls his most important spring ever.
"I've been through a lot," he said, shrugging, after a Tuesday workout at the Peoria Sports Complex.
Morse isn't talking only about his positive steroids test back in May 2004. That was tough enough, since he was nabbed again the following year and had to go to court to prove the second failed test was actually because of leftover traces of the initial steroids — not any new drug use.
But even more draining was his quest for mental toughness, to overcome the disappointment of being so close to his dream without fully tasting it. In what has become an annual spring ritual, Morse, who turns 26 next month, once again enters camp on the cusp of a Mariners job that might be one roster spot short of materializing.
His competition this spring is Jeremy Reed — another one-time Mariners outfielder having trouble sticking with the squad — and prospect Wladimir Balentien, considered the team's right-fielder-in-waiting. Morse is looking to be the team's fourth outfielder, bringing with him a résumé that includes 102 games with the Mariners since 2005 and an ability to play shortstop, third base, first base and both corner outfield spots.
"I think I bring a lot to the table," he said. "And I think there's some team out there that would want a player like me."
It's what Morse doesn't bring that might be just as key. For a guy who began his Mariners career in such hot water, there has been very little baggage associated with him since.
No stories about "big leaguing" support staffers in Tacoma after each inevitable ticket back to Class AAA. No moping in the clubhouse about his lot in life in the hopes of forcing a trade. Morse has been the ideal happy camper, at least outwardly. To hear him tell it, the past year is when he finally found the inner peace to block out things he can't control.
"This is the most excited I've ever been for a spring training," said Morse, who hit .309 with an .828 on-base-plus slugging percentage for Tacoma last season. "I think it's because I've grown up. I've been through a lot, going up and down, up and down. I've been to Triple A. A couple of friends, ex-players, told me it's a tough road. That I could get sent down, and they told me: 'Don't feel bad about yourself or anything, just keep fighting.' "
Morse hails from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and trained three days per week this past winter with Mariners left fielder Raul Ibanez at the Perfect Competition elite training facility in nearby Davie. The sessions were in groups of five, which often included other major-leaguers like Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez, Manny Ramirez and Mike Napoli.
Ibanez was up and down for three seasons before landing a full-time job in the majors and knows how tough it can be.
"The most important part is the mind-set and staying in control of what you can control," he said. "I think what I see now is a much more focused person and player."
Ibanez says he saw that focus watching Morse train. They'd worked out in the same facility back in 2005, and Ibanez noticed a difference this time.
"I think he was giving his max effort all the time," he said. "There's an intensity in his eyes now. It looks like he turned the page."
Morse is out of minor-league options, so this will likely be his last shot with the organization. And if he doesn't make it, there will be no apologies. Not for past steroids infractions already accounted for, a present filled with uncertainty, or a future he can't guarantee will ever be fulfilled.
This time, he says, he's leaving it all on the field.
"I want to go out and just play," he said. "In the past, I've always tried to make the team, been worried about that. Now, I just want to play. To earn the spot."
• The Mariners signed one-time major-league outfielder Bubba Crosby to a minor-league contract Tuesday. The deal does not include a spring-training invitation for Crosby, 31, who last played in the majors with the New York Yankees from 2004 to 2006.
• Mariners pitcher Anderson Garcia, claimed off waivers from the Phillies over the weekend, will be sidelined a few days with biceps tendinitis. Garcia felt sore after throwing a bullpen session on Monday.
• Second baseman Jose Lopez is expected to be at least a day or two late arriving in camp because of visa problems in his native Venezuela.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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