Perpetual underdog Morgan fueled by passion
Outfielder needs aggression to succeed, but it must be in check
Nyjer Morgan is, in every way, a product of his past. In fact, that has always been his most endearing quality.
Once beloved for his passion, Morgan finds himself villanized for his aggression. Applauded for his tenacity, Morgan is now publically pressured to alter his style of play. He's never been one to fit in -- never wanted to, either -- yet now feels as ostracized as ever.
The shift in public perception is bothersome, Morgan admitted. However, to characterize it as anything new would be inaccurate.
Indeed, Morgan has been here before.
The me-against-the-world mentality first emerged in San Jose's Eastridge Ice Arena, where, by the age of nine, Morgan had already been dubbed a "little legend" in northern California's hockey circle. As his mother, Trina Perry, explained, Morgan's all-out-style on the ice -- and not to mention the intrigue of seeing a black kid excelling in a white man's sport -- drew crowds.
Then, it drew criticism. Morgan was told to back off, to play nice. He was indirectly informed that, because of the color of his skin, his aggressiveness was improper.
It was an unacceptable request in Morgan's not-so-humble opinion, and the elementary schooler continued to play the only we he knew how, even as it resulted in more penalty-box minutes than any of his teammates.
"There was a lot of angst because he was so aggressive and so good," Perry said. "People didn't know how to handle it."
Kevin Clouser tells the same story.
He remembers well the day in late April 2002, when he discovered Morgan on the Walla Walla Community College baseball field. Struck by Morgan's aggressiveness and raw athletic skill, the area scout convinced the Pirates to draft Morgan with their 33rd-round pick.
"There's definitely a mentality to those hockey guys," Clouser recalled. "They're fighters. They are tough guys. I knew this guy was going to play at 100 percent until someone told him to stop."
He did. And people tried.
Morgan's aggressive style of play -- which had not long before earned him a roster spot with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League -- made him an instant outcast in the straight-laced world of Minor League baseball.
Teammates didn't get him. Baseball coaches refused to let Morgan play for them in the professional offseason.
As Clouser candidly put it: "Nobody wanted anything to do with him."
And yet, Morgan did the only thing he knew to do. He kept fighting.
He fought his way through six seasons in the Minors. Fought his way into a starting job with the Pirates in 2009. Fought his way into being a player the Nationals targeted, successfully so, last summer.
He fought his way into the hearts of Pirates fans, who fell in love with the six-foot, 175-pound outfielder for no other reason than the passion with which he played each game. In a blue-collar town, that was something to be revered.
Those same Pittsburgh fans that had been so loyal have since turned on Morgan.
But anyone who thinks Morgan's tumultuous few weeks will have a changing effect on the outfielder's mentality might as well dismiss that notion right now. It's what got Morgan to the Majors. And it's the only thing that's going to keep him here.
"I don't see why I'm the bad guy in all the situations," Morgan said, well aware that his rapid fall from grace led to the boos he heard at PNC Park over the weekend.
"I guess that's just how the cookie crumbles sometimes when you're a hard player. I think if I played like this back in the '80s, nobody would have said anything. I play the game the way that got me here and that's playing it hard and playing the game full of energy."
None of this is to make excuses for Morgan. Nor does it relieve him from taking responsibility for recent mistakes.
Recognizing that he has done some wrong would be a good place for the 30-year-old to start. If nothing else, admittance of guilt might win Morgan a second chance from some. It would also help as he appeals his separate eight- and seven-game suspensions this Friday.
Morgan would benefit from realizing that he doesn't have to approach each day feeling that he, alone, is up against the world. People hadn't been waiting for him to fail, though Morgan must now be willing to accept that as a potential byproduct of recent events.
Learning how to better channel the frustrations from a season gone awry is another must. So, too, is appreciating how many people out there still believe the outfielder has much good to offer to a team. He can look around his clubhouse for proof.
"Those of us who know him, we know he's a hard-nosed player," teammate Sean Burnett said. "I know he's a hockey player, and they're a little different. He's not a bad guy. We know what he's about."
Public perception, be it what it may, this isn't a guy who is a clubhouse cancer, who snaps at the media, or who distances himself from fans. This isn't someone who blatantly goes out of his way to intentionally disrespect the game.
This is simply the story of a perpetual underdog, who plays the only way he knows how. Even to a fault.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.