Morse matures since first go-around in Seattle
Slugger has transformed from talented kid to dependable veteran on young team
PEORIA, Ariz. -- With the last days of Spring Training ticking away toward the regular season, Michael Morse has settled back in with the Mariners a different player than when he was with the club the first time around, and on a different team from when he left.
A young and in some ways raw force with Seattle from 2004-08, now Morse is a 31-year-old veteran, and he's among the established players being counted on to push the Mariners up the American League West standings. Now, he is one of the players to be followed, one of the players who can show the way.
"I hope so," Morse said. "Coming up, I always heard it's best to lead by example, and I learned a lot by watching. If there's one thing I can show these guys, I think it's the right way to play the game every day."
For hitting coach Dave Hansen, who played for the Mariners when Morse was first coming up, the evolution is something to behold. The young player has become a veteran, and Hansen says the way he goes about his business shows that the veterans who helped Morse back in the day helped him turn the corner toward the consistency a Major Leaguer needs.
And the circle continues.
"I've seen it already with his interaction with the younger guys," said Hansen, who played for the Mariners his final two years in 2004 and '05, the year Morse debuted in the Majors. "He's embraced that role. I think he remembers when he was young and getting going, and maybe some veteran guys gave him a few pointers along the way, and he's happy to pass those along. I've already seen that.
"He's still in the meat of his career, but he has enough years under his belt to be able to give some wisdom to some of the kids, and that's important in the game."
What Morse has shown younger players this spring is how to knock the ball around the desert, smacking a Cactus League-leading six homers and three doubles while driving in 11 runs in 39 at-bats before getting Thursday off, giving him back-to-back days following Wednesday's off-day on the Mariners' schedule.
Morse comes back to Seattle after posting some impressive numbers in Washington, including a career-high 31 homers and 95 RBIs in 2011 before smacking 18 homers and 62 RBIs in a 2012 season that started two months late with a right lat strain. But it's apparent he's capable of contributing more than just numbers, having matured from a talented kid into a valuable veteran.
"It's an impressive story, actually, how much he's changed," Hansen said. "His work, his desire to maintain that, he's real consistent with it, and I'm just really, really impressed how he's grown up as a baseball player and as a human being."
Bringing the experience he gained with the Nationals, especially the National League East-winning playoff team of a year ago, Morse has developed more confidence after spending several weeks with his new club and feels that this is another special team.
"When I got traded to D.C., it was an organization that was on the rise, but it wasn't an organization that thought it would get success right away. Last year, no one expected us to do what we did," Morse said. "So when I come into the situation that we have here, I have the same feeling: Anything can happen. Everybody expects us to be good in a couple of years, but I'm walking proof that it can happen right now."
Of course, for that to be the case, many things need to go right, and one of them is that the changes in the team's offense need to click, and the veteran hitters acquired this offseason like Morse as well as Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay need to deliver.
What the team has considerably more of than last year is players who have been there before, down the stretch run and into the playoffs. Ibanez is the main man there, including his tour de force for the Yankees last year, but Morse is in that club, too, having helped bring the playoffs to D.C., for the first time in 79 years.
"If you put all the time that Raul has been in the playoffs and a couple of other guys, we have some good experience in here," Morse said. "We have that fever, you could say. Especially with me, [the Nationals] were there last year, and I'm dying to get back."
From that attitude to how he works out hard in the weight room to how he puts in his time in the batting cage, Morse has become an example Hansen and the rest of the coaching staff like seeing set for younger players.
And now it's Morse's turn to not only feel the responsibility of being counted on to produce, but also deliver the type of leadership that only a player who has been through the ropes a bit can give.
"Being reunited with him has been awesome, because the evolution to where he is now is incredible," Hansen said. "It's so encouraging to know that transformation can happen, especially here with all the attention you get on and off the field. I still look at him sometimes as a young teammate, and then I see him work and think, 'Wow, he's got it going on.' It's very cool."
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.