Skating with Sharks: T-Plush takes to the ice
Hockey player at heart, Morgan practices with hometown team
SAN JOSE -- If Nyjer Morgan could choose between being a professional baseball player and a pro hockey player, he'd choose hockey in a heartbeat. After all, he grew up playing youth hockey in San Jose, idolizing his hometown Sharks.
Though he did make it as far as the major junior level in Canada, the two-sport star's talents eventually led him to pursue baseball. But the Brewers outfielder got to live a dream Wednesday when he took to the ice to practice with his hometown team.
"Obviously to be out there to skate with my childhood team and just to be out there with the boys was an unbelievable feeling," said a beaming Morgan, whose black sweater featured his familiar No. 2 and the name "Plush" across the back, a nod to his "Tony Plush" alter ego.
"Ever since they came to the Bay Area in 1990, [with original head coach] George Kingston, I've always been a fan. I've always been a diehard Sharks fan," said Morgan, who cited current Sharks GM Doug Wilson and former captain Owen Nolan as his favorite Sharks growing up.
Morgan has often been seen wearing Sharks gear in TV interviews, prompting the club to invite him to join their practice at Sharks Ice in San Jose.
"We love him," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "We love him for [wearing Sharks gear]. ... He wears the Sharks and he's proud to be a Sharks fan, and we're kind of Brewers fans now, I guess."
With a smile that never left his face for the entire practice, Morgan raised his arms triumphantly as he emerged from the Sharks' dressing room, clad in full gear and wearing his "Plush" sweater. He signed autographs and announced "T. Plush does hockey -- Bay Area boy, let's do it!" before taking a seat on the bench.
In deference to his status as the Brewers' sparkplug, Morgan sat out part of the practice, joining a shootout drill and then skating and practicing puck-handling while chatting with players. In the shootout, he missed on his first three shots against backup goalie Thomas Greiss, but buried his final shot between the goalie's legs.
"He just came down with a nice shot and put it in," Greiss said. "He skates really well. He's said he likes to get on his skates and have fun. You could see that. He's a good skater."
Said Morgan: "How many athletes do you know who can just jump on the ice and do what I just did? Exactly. Pretty cool, huh? It's been many moons; it's been a lot of years. And I've still got it, you see that?"
Morgan moved to Canada at age 16 to pursue his hockey career, eventually playing in seven games with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League as a 19-year-old. He scored two goals and racked up 20 penalty minutes before deciding that baseball was a better course, despite his preference for hockey.
Sharks head coach Todd McLellan, who coached for the WHL's Swift Current Broncos that same season, remembered Morgan as having the personality for which he's become known in the Majors.
"His ball characteristics and the way he stirs things up on the ballfield, that's the exact same way he was on the ice surface," McLellan said. "He was a bit of a disturber, got under the skin of some of the other players, and competed hard."
Asked if he'd want Morgan on his team, McLellan replied, "You know what, I've seen his passion and his energy when he gets out on a ballfield, and if that converts into anything on the ice, I absolutely will. But I do know one thing: He wouldn't be going in the shootout."
During practice, Morgan excused himself from a tip drill, in which players fired pucks at a teammate who would attempt to redirect them, hockey's version of pepper. He joked that he had been itching to get a little physical, possibly with hulking Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray.
"Most definitely, but too many cameras, so I couldn't," Morgan said. "I was going to ask Dougie to help me with dropping my mitts. But that wouldn't have been too right."
Thornton said he was surprised by how good Morgan was, saying he'd give him a B-plus.
"He's actually a pretty good skater, believe it or not," Thornton said. "He took a couple of strong strides. Him being an outfielder, I think he can get around pretty good. I'm not sure how sturdy he is on his skates, though. A guy like Dougie Murray, we'll see if he can hit him. We'll see how that part of his game goes."
Morgan got a warm reception from most spectators, despite a run-in with fans at AT&T Park during a game vs. the Giants last season. But Cardinals fan Mike Sizemore showed up wearing a St. Louis jersey and cap and carrying a sign that read, "TPlush, good to see you're trying hockey. Baseball didn't work out. #11 in 11," in reference to the Cardinals defeating the Brewers in the National League Championship Series en route to winning the Redbirds' 11th World Series title.
Morgan took it in stride, waving and smiling at Sizemore until he got a wave back.
Though Morgan said he had no plans to make practicing with the Sharks an annual event, the team enjoyed having him around, and Thornton was especially happy that Morgan predicted the Sharks would win the Stanley Cup this season.
"Hopefully he might be able to come to a playoff game if we make it that far," the captain said. "Maybe come down and do a pregame skate before the Cup. Hopefully, we can do it this year."
Chris Shuttlesworth is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.