'Stars are aligned' for grateful Morse with Giants
Slugging outfielder excited to be part of talented, historically significant team
SAN FRANCISCO -- Imagine being an astronaut chosen for the first manned mission to Mars. Or a veteran jurist who has been nominated to the Supreme Court. They'd feel thrilled, honored and fortunate.
That is, they'd feel like Michael Morse does nowadays.
Morse has reveled in his Giants experience since they signed him to a one-year, $6 million contract as a free agent last December. He adores and respects his teammates. Morse savors his interaction with franchise legends such as Willie Mays and Barry Bonds. And, of course, Morse relishes his role as the everyday left fielder for San Francisco, which occupies first place in the National League West.
"Oh, man," Morse said earlier this week, considering his good fortune. "The stars are aligned."
Morse, 32, is the latest individual who's happy to trumpet that the Giants' team chemistry is real, not just reputation. When Morse's agents, Seth and Sam Levinson, informed him of San Francisco's interest in acquiring him, he urged them to pursue a deal. To Morse, the club's 76-86 finish in 2013 didn't tarnish the cachet remaining from its World Series championships in '10 and '12. Moreover, he gained an appreciation for Bruce Bochy while participating in a five-game exhibition tour of Major League All-Stars to Taiwan following the '11 season, which the Giants' manager supervised.
"When I heard Bochy had me in mind, that was a big compliment for what I've done in my career," Morse said. "To be a part of his program and his team is such an honor. That's why coming here was a big thing for me."
Morse's arrival also has been significant for the Giants, who begin a challenging three-city, 10-game trip Friday in Atlanta following Thursday's scheduled off-day. Having put two injury-plagued seasons behind him, he has amassed a team-high 20 RBIs, while batting .302 with six home runs. The right-handed-batting Morse, who prides himself on being a complete hitter, has generated his run production by stroking hits up the middle and to the opposite field in addition to yanking homers to left.
"When you think of Morse, you think of a power hitter," Bochy said. "But he gives you a quality at-bat. And he gives you a presence. He's fun to watch."
Morse is having fun, too. He has found himself surrounded by teammates who embrace camaraderie as much as he does.
"I feel like the team's this way already, but we have a wide variety of people in here, and he seems to get along with everyone," shortstop Brandon Crawford said.
Morse's gregariousness comes naturally. Crawford confirmed this by recalling their brief encounters in previous seasons when Morse, then playing for the Washington Nationals, reached second base.
"Even then, he seemed like he had a good sense of humor," Crawford said. "He was joking around about something and I hadn't really talked to him."
Morse quickly forged a bond with his peers in Spring Training.
"They all bring such a great personality," said Morse, whose 6-foot-5, 245-pound stature is falsely menacing. "The guys are awesome, man. I've never been on a team where there's not one guy I don't talk to.
"Usually, position players kind of stick together. When I'm in the dugout, I'm talking to the starting pitchers -- I'm talking to Tim Hudson, [Madison] Bumgarner, Matt Cain. It's so great. It's such a family. Everybody's done so much in their career, and no one acts or thinks that he's better than the other guys."
Morse firmly believes that such off-field bonding furthers on-field unity.
"I've been on some good teams and I've been on some really bad teams," said Morse, who has played for the Mariners and Orioles aside from the Nationals. "There is a difference. There is a huge difference. And it starts in the clubhouse."
That, Morse continued, separates San Francisco from other clubs.
"Everybody comes here happy to be here," Morse said. "Nobody ever has a bad attitude. Everybody wants one goal, and that's to win tonight. Especially these guys who have won before. They know what it takes to win, and they want to win again. To me, it's the perfect balance of having fun and having success."
Sharing moments with some of the more successful Giants, past and present, has delighted Morse.
Morse took full advantage of Bonds' week-long Spring Training stint as a guest instructor, and he continues to pepper the former slugger with questions during the all-time home run leader's occasional visits to San Francisco's clubhouse.
"I pick his brain a lot," Morse said, noting that he seeks Bonds' advice about playing left field at AT&T Park as much as hitting tips.
Morse also has maintained a running dialogue about hitting techniques with catcher Buster Posey, whom he typically follows in the batting order. Morse demonstrated his enthusiasm for these talks during a pitching change in Monday's 6-4 loss to San Diego. Morse strolled from second base, where he had reached, to discuss previous at-bats with Posey, the baserunner at third.
"[Posey] gets me," Morse said. "And I think I get him a little bit. I like talking to him, because he reassures me about staying through the middle of the field. I hear him say it, and that's what he does. We kind of keep each other locked in. We kind of feed off of each other. It's pretty cool."
"Cool" might be an understatement in describing a Spring Training exchange that Morse had with Mays, who occasionally pokes innocuous fun at people who approach him, ballplayers and non-ballplayers alike.
"Willie said, 'Let me feel your forearms,'" Morse recalled. "I'm like, 'Oh, man.' He starts feeling my forearms and said, 'Aw, man, you need to get in the weight room. You need to work out.'"
Kidding aside, Morse remained transformed from meeting Mays.
"To be able to talk to a guy who's done so much in his career -- so much -- he's a walking icon, a living legend," Morse said. "I've been in Seattle where [Ken] Griffey [Jr.] might come in, or Edgar Martinez, but Willie Mays? We're talking another level here. There are a lot of perks to this team so far."
Fans already have sampled Morse's personality. AT&T Park patrons have steadily become aware that his walkup music for his third at-bat in each game is a-ha's "Take On Me," a nod to his ardor for 1980s pop music.
"I love how it kind of gives me an attachment to the fans, and it's something that hopefully brings out my personality a little bit," Morse said.
In fact, an increasing number of fans try to hit the song's high note during each game. Morse is fascinated by the decade's many one-hit wonders, though he included multihit artists such as Depeche Mode, Foreigner and Toto as among his favorites.
Morse has been unable to find a rhythm professionally, largely due to the aforementioned injuries. He has switched teams four times since 2009.
"My career, it's a crazy one," Morse said. "It's got a lot of winds and turns in it."
Joining the Giants may have straightened out everything for him.