It’s been a decade since Matt Morris last pitched in the big leagues, so there’s some forgiveness that his 10U Big Sky baseball team doesn’t fully understand what the right-hander meant to the St. Louis Cardinals back in the day.
“I don’t think so, they hit me pretty hard in batting practice,” quipped Morris. “They’re a great bunch of kids. They’re all a bunch of skiers that play baseball. It’s been fun.”
In town this past Wednesday night, Morris and his team took in batting practice and the pregame activities at Busch Stadium. As the likes of Jim Edmonds, Mike Matheny, and Willie McGee made their way over to say hello, there seemed to be a growing understanding that Coach Matt or dad, was kind of a big deal.
“Just letting them see what I used to do,” said Morris, who won 22 games in 2001 and 101 of his 121 career victories for the Cardinals . “It’s the first year of kid pitch, so it was kind of painful at first, but we got them straightened out. A lot of pressure on me to teach these guys to pitch and I realized how difficult it is. So fun. It’s reignited my baseball passion and I wanted to bring them here because of that.”
In true fashion, it was only a matter of moments before Matheny and Morris were engaged in one of their stories about a “discussion” they had on the mound and the play which followed. Close friends when they were teammates and to this day, Matheny has often talked about how those conversations could heated on the mound.
“They are classic,” agreed Morris with a smile. “It’s funny to see what people remember from their careers. Mike and I are on the same page–I don’t remember wins, losses, hits, any of that. I remember our arguments and our battles within the game and situational stuff and what an amazing guy to have behind your back and with you all the time so it’s been awesome.”
There is still a respect and admiration for the toughness and at times stubbornness of Morris, but now as the Cardinals manager, Matheny has been stressing an honest and open line of communication from his players regarding their health and availability each game.
The personalities and tendencies are all different–some who feel great all the time, others who feel bad but still take the ball, some who have to feel perfect or watch out. And those like Morris, who would never let on what was really going on.
“I knew from the first start of the season that he was not right,” recalled Matheny. “I’d ask him how he was–and I had no bearing on whether he’d pitch the next game or not, and he’d look me in the face and tell me he was perfect and I knew his stuff was short. Then he finished the entire season and when it was over, he went and had surgery. He never made a peep to anybody.”
How would Morris handle things today if he was still pitching?
“I just wouldn’t say anything again,” said Morris. “I don’t know how smart I am, obviously that doesn’t pay off for smarts. But I just wanted to play the game. Daryl Kile taught me that kind of stuff, too. It was something I wanted to show the teammates that I was able to get on the rubber every fifth day and put my piece in. Now who knows? I think they need a little more of that.”
But a little bit of Morris continues as he was part of the path from Kile to Carpenter to Wainwright to now Flaherty and Weaver and the other young pitchers.
“I guess so,” reflected Morris. “That was important when I came here as a Cardinal as young guy. It was a Stottlemyre, an Eckersley, and Benes, and all those guys. You feel like that’s your next step. We tried to do that as best we could. It was a friendly competition between us and I think that’s healthy and it was a lot of fun being with all those guys.”
So with the fun of being a coach and his return to St. Louis, could fans start to see Matt Morris around Busch Stadium or the Cardinals on a more regular basis?
“You’ll see me around more for sure,” stated Morris. “It’s more about the kids, but to be able to do this–they’re finally old enough to appreciate it more. And I come back and want to do it more and more also. The way I’m treated here is amazing.”
photo credit: Brian Stull/STLBaseballWeekly.com