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To some people, David Morgan '94 was just a bouncer at a local bar. Some knew him as one of Harvard's best athletes, but few realized that one day they would know him as a professional baseball player.
In June, Morgan was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 18th round of baseball's amateur draft. He played with Toronto's rookie league team in Medicine Hat, Alberta (Canada) over the summer and is currently with the Blue Jays' instructional league team in Dunedin, Florida, outside of Clearwater.
"I was one of eight catchers invited by the Toronto organization," Morgan said. "It's an honor to have been invited, especially because I wasn't hitting as well as I could have this summer."
The 6-5, 200-pound catcher was drafted for his impressive bat: last spring, the then-junior hit .470 in 20 Ivy League games and .395 overall while playing first base. But as a catcher in Medicine Hat, Morgan slumped to .250, although he knocked in 39 RBIs in 60 games.
"Hitting and catching here is very different here because the pitchers have amazing movement on the ball, great curve balls, change-ups--crazy stuff," Morgan said.
When instructional league began, Morgan felt better about his hitting.
"The league is purely instructional so they don't tell us our stats," he said. "I was happy with the way I was hitting, though."
Due to an injury to his catching thumb he sustained when sliding into second base a few weeks into the season, Morgan had been sidelined for two weeks before returning Monday.
"It was a pretty wimpy injury, actually," Morgan laughed. "But since I've returned, my hitting's changed. I've made a big adjustment in my stance. I used to move around a lot as the pitcher wound up but now I stand completely still and rely on my quick bat rather than on timing the pitcher. It feels like I'm hitting the ball better."
The players get lots of practice to work on their skills.
A typical day for Morgan begins at 7:30 a.m. when he and his four roommates get up. They go to the ballpark no later than 8:30. The morning practice consists of various defensive drills. After lunch they face other instructional leagues in relaxed games.
When they first arrived in Florida, the Blue Jays' players were broken up into two squads. On any given afternoon, one squad would face a rival team from the Indians, Astros, Tigers, Reds or Yankees organizations while the other half of the team would practice facing pitchers in hypothetical situations.
"The day isn't over after the games," Morgan said. "We might have a late practice to work out things that happened in the games. We usually leave the park around 5:30 p.m."
And then? Morgan admits that although he rarely go out during the week, he usually hits the town Saturday nights because he has Sundays off.
"On Saturday night we usually go into Tampa to the best bar around," Morgan said. "It's called the Yucatan Liquor Stand. Great name for a bar, huh?"
Despite being injured, Morgan has improved on his catching as well during instructional league.
"I'm starting to throw guys out more consistently," Morgan said. "I'm also getting to be a better receiver...I'm excited because I'm learning a lot and getting better quickly.
"You learn that stats aren't everything and you'll go crazy if that's all you think about. We play so many games here [in the minors] that you can't help but get better."
One of the most difficult adjustments for any player coming from collegiate to minor league baseball is the transition from aluminum to wooden bats.
"It was tough this summer switching to wood," Morgan said. "You think you have to do things differently when you probably don't.
This summer his rookie team played other rookie league teams from Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. He travelled for hours by bus and slept in motels from state to state.
"My life was not at all glamorous," said Morgan. "We would travel by bus for 13 to 15 hours for a three-game stand in Idaho then we would travel another five hours to Montana. We would end up playing in three different states in one week. It was hard on the body and the mind."
The pay was not that great either. Morgan was paid $850 a month, $150 of which went for rent to the family with whom he was living.
"I gained a whole new respect for these guys because they put so much time in the minors travelling around and playing every day," Morgan said. "It's no wonder they are paid so much when they make it to The Show."
His team was the second-best in Medicine Hat history. It had a 39-34 record with the second most wins and contended for the championships.
Back at the Ranch
Morgan seems to be getting along well out of Harvard but can Harvard survive the loss of this great athlete?
"His ability is much higher than an 18th round pick," said Mike Giardi, captain of this year's baseball team. "His potential and the power in his arm is unbelievable. He should have gone between the 10th and 15th rounds, probably in the 10th.
"Dave will not only be missed for his baseball ability, but also for the charisma he brought to the field," Giardi said.
In the end:
"Dave's one of the finest hitters we've had at Harvard," baseball Coach Leigh Hogan said. "Nobody's going to fill Dave's shoes 100 percent, we're not going to try to do that. He's a genuine major league prospect."
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