Q&A with Nyjer Morgan
New Nats outfielder discusses trade, hockey background
Thursday was a special day for new Nationals outfielder Nyjer Morgan, for he was celebrating his 29th birthday in his new hometown of Washington, D.C. Morgan said he was going to have dinner with his brother and planned to go to bed early.
Two days earlier, Nationals acting general manager Mike Rizzo acquired Morgan and left-hander Sean Burnett from the Pirates for reliever Joel Hanrahan and outfielder Lastings Milledge.
Morgan is considered the key to the deal for Washington. He was acquired to improve the team's outfield defense, which ranks among the worst in the National League.
The Nationals see Morgan as a center fielder/leadoff hitter. Washington also likes his hockey attitude. He once played with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League during the 1999-2000 season.
Morgan, who will wear No. 1 on his uniform, was playing left field and batting second for Pittsburgh. Entering Friday's action, Morgan was hitting .277 with two home runs, 27 RBIs and 18 stolen bases.
MLB.com caught up with Morgan on his birthday to talk about playing for the Nationals.
MLB.com: What was your reaction when your name was mentioned in trade talks late last week?
Nyjer Morgan: [I was] flattered. I opened some eyes. I'm happy that the Washington Nationals appreciate my hard work, hustle and what I'm going to bring to this organization.
MLB.com: Was it a whirlwind for you? The trade talks started to heat up on Friday.
Morgan: I was talking to Eric Hinske [before he was traded to the Yankees]. I said, "Dude, it's starting to get hot. My name is getting mentioned in trade talks." Eric said, "Stuff like that happens all the time. Don't fall into the traps and don't think about it. Just go out and play." That's exactly what I did. I battled out of my little slump.
I'm happy to be in Washington. It's a fresh new start. [Pirates general manager] Neal Huntington gave me my opportunity to showcase myself to the other 29 teams. The Nationals liked what I brought to the table. They need a leadoff hitter, some excitement and hard work. That's exactly what I'm going to bring in.
MLB.com: How surprised were you that your former teammates, especially Jack Wilson, didn't like the fact that you were leaving the team?
Morgan: There was a lot of love in that locker room -- just being there my whole career and I built a lot of relationships. I was getting to feel comfortable and they saw the real Nyjer Morgan. There are lot of good guys over there. I'm going to miss them. I appreciate those guys letting me go to war with them on that diamond. It feels very good when you know those boys care about you like that -- not just on the field, but off the field.
MLB.com: Rizzo said that he liked your hockey attitude. I guess playing hockey paid off in the long run.
Morgan: It's just the way I play. I have confidence. I know I can play. I know I can be up here and I know I can be an everyday player. You have to have a little swagger. You can't really show that you are soft. If you don't have any confidence, this game is going to eat you up.
MLB.com: For people who don't know you, what do you bring to the table on and off the field?
Morgan: I bring nothing but hard work on the field. I bring excitement. People pay good money to watch us play. I want to leave a good impression on their minds if they want to come back. I play the game the right way.
Of the field, I'm just low key, laid back, happy-go-lucky. I'm easy, breezy, nice and easy [Laughing].
MLB.com: You are having your best season to date. Why is that?
Morgan: I'm getting more comfortable, understanding myself and the game a little more. I'm around good players. I believe in my approach and just going out there and playing. I'm just excited about playing this game. I'm not supposed to be here. I'm a 33rd-round [Draft] pick, so I'm going to enjoy every moment of it. I respect the game and I'm out there having fun.
MLB.com: You had dreams of becoming a hockey player. What made you give it up?
Morgan: I had a little girl at the age of 19. I wasn't your typical 6-foot-4, 6-5 huge monster out there. I was at my crossroads. I had an opportunity to go to Walla Walla Community College to play baseball and get an education at that. That was basically a no-brainer. I just went to school, knowing that I have this little girl on the way, and then I got picked up by the Pirates.
MLB.com: How do you think you would have done if you played in the NHL?
Morgan: I think I would have done more than all right; I can still play. My hands aren't as good as they used to be, but I still have the speed and I can get some slap shots. After two weeks of practice, I look like I could play for the Sharks.
MLB.com: You will be making your Nationals debut on Friday against the Braves. How excited are you about playing in Nationals Park?
Morgan: I'm excited because it's a new start, a fresh beginning. That talent that is here -- oh, man. Mike Rizzo wants me to be a piece of what they have here. They have good pitching, young pitching. You can see the pieces are there. It's time for us to jell and come together as a cohesive unit.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.