Morse's code for success is all positive
Seattle outfielder's improved outlook could spell spot in bigs
PHOENIX -- The advice Mike Morse received from Mariners teammate Raul Ibanez during the offseason already shows signs of paying dividends.It's early, but a more relaxed and mature Morse, who turns 28 on March 22, has been one of the most productive players in camp this spring. The way he has been hitting the ball, and throwing it, he is making a strong case for being on the Mariners' 25-man Opening Day roster. Morse went 2-for-4 with a home run in Tuesday's 9-6 loss to the Athletics and is now 7-for-11 with six RBIs during Cactus League play. It has been more than three years since the Mariners acquired Morse from the White Sox in a five-player trade that also included Seattle pitcher Freddy Garcia and catcher Ben Davis, and Sox catcher Miguel Olivo, and outfielder Jeremy Reed. Morse has been promoted from Triple-A Tacoma three times, and sent back three times. Enough is enough. "I just want to play in the big leagues," Morse said. "I think I'm ready." That is something the Mariners, or another Major League organization, will determine. All Morse can do is keep hitting, throwing, catching and running the bases to the best of his ability. In other words, do exactly what Ibanez suggested during one of their offseason workouts in Miami. "Raul's the kind of guy I can ask about hitting, but he knows that I know enough about hitting," Morse said. "But when it came to the mental side, he just told me, 'Hang in there, I've been through the same thing.' For three years he didn't stick. It's good to hear that from somebody like him." Ibanez saw in Morse what he saw in himself almost eight years ago. "I have been there, so I understand what it's like for him," Ibanez said. "It's a difficult situation, but it's all about attitude and mind-set. Whatever you can control, you take care of. What you can't control, you let the good Lord take care of it." The Mariners control Morse's destiny. He is out of options and must clear waivers if Seattle wants to send him back to the Minors for a fourth time. "I try not to think about anything except playing," Morse said. "I go out every day, take fly balls and grounders, and let that other stuff sort itself out." Ibanez rode the Tacoma shuttle from 1996 through 2000, playing in 231 games before being discarded like a used paper cup -- not even being offered a contract for the 2001 season.
"That was rough," he said, "but sometimes what we think is the worst thing that can happen to us, turns out to be the best thing. There's always a positive in every negative and you just have to look for it."Ibanez eventually found his "positive" in Kansas City, but not before twice being designated for assignment during the 2001 season. He credits three days of workouts and talks with former Royals player Kevin Seitzer for turning his career around. "I tried to tell myself, and convince myself, that circumstances didn't define me," Ibanez said. "Who I was in my mind wasn't necessarily who I was in reality. I tried to picture in my mind, regardless of what was going on around me, that I was this other player. "The manifestation of that player didn't become a reality until I went to Kansas City." Finally given an opportunity to control his own destiny, Ibanez became a productive offensive player, batting at least .280 in three seasons with the Royals, hitting 55 home runs and driving in 247 runs. He has been even more productive during his second tour with the Mariners. It might work out that Morse has to move on to become an everyday player in the big leagues. He agreed that this spring could be an "audition." Every Major League team has scouts in the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues. One of the most difficult decisions of this camp could come down to which of the six outfielders in camp emerges as the fourth outfielder on the 25-man Opening Day roster. Morse and Charlton Jimerson are out of options, while Reed and Wladimir Balentien have at least one option remaining. "That is something we have to consider, for sure," manager John McLaren said. "We know we have some guys out of options and that's why we didn't bring any veteran [outfielders] in. We wanted these guys to get the at-bats, give them a fair shot. "It will be a tough decision, but I like that. I think competition brings out the best in all of us. If you have right insides, it will make you focus more, concentrate more and make you a better ballplayer. I have always said, if you have talent and you compete and you like competition, you will reach your potential if you let yourself. I have always believed that." Morse credits his offseason talks with Ibanez for coming to camp with such a positive attitude. "When Raul speaks, you listen. That motivated me and pumped me up, and kept my head on the right track. There's a lot of times when you start doubting yourself and think, 'I'm never going to make it.' " He still doesn't know the answer to that one, and neither does Ibanez. But a clear mind sure helps. "I'm 100 percent more relaxed than before," Morse said. "I'm having fun. In the past, I tried to do too much and was stressed out all the time, and that only hurts you. Now, I am playing my game, having fun and letting my skills take over." Ibanez has noticed a difference. "I have seen him in other camps and worked out with him one other time [in the offseason]," Ibanez said. "The guy I worked with this past winter was a different guy. He was more focused, more intense, more mature." It has carried over to this spring. "I'm playing these [Cactus League] games like it's the regular season," he said.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.