OMAHA – Russ Morman is a man of few words.
You could say that Morman lets his bat do most of the talking for him. You could say that, but I can’t. I interviewed Morman’s bat for more than an hour Monday and the dang piece of aluminum didn’t say a thing. Not even a “hidy.”
Morman’s bat does speak its own language on the baseball diamond, however. Sometimes, Morman’s bat speaks in a bass voice. Lately, it’s been sounding off in a squeaky tenor.
At 6-feet-4, 215 pounds, Morman is Wichita State’s designated hitter. He is also the cleanup hitter.
At one time, Morman was running off from the rest of the boys in home run production. Now, though his season total of 21 represents some pretty good college home-run hitting, he has dropped to third on the team. Going into Monday night’s game against Miami in the second round of the College World Series here, it had been 10 games since Morman had hit a homer
That doesn’t mean that Morman, a sophomore from Independence, Mo., who transferred to Wichita State last fall from Western Iowa Junior College, hasn’t been earning his keep. Although he didn’t knock in a single run as the Shockers trashed the NCAA Southern Regional en route to the series, Morman still leads the team in ribbies with 119, which is a lot in anybody’s league. And he’s still batting .378, which means, as a cleanup hitter, he’s making a lot of contact with that ol’ horsehide.
Morman figures his apparent conversion from a slugger to a line-drive hitter is a mere coincidence, though he has made a definite effort to not kill the ball.
“It’s just the way things have fallen,” he says. “I have a lot of strikeouts. At the beginning of the season, I was trying to hit everything out. At about mid-season, I decided that if I was going to contribute and drive runs in, I had to make more contact.”
Like most power hitters, Morman is somewhat prone to slumps. Like most young players, Morman is also prone to inconsistency. And like most ballplayers of all sorts, Morman is prone to loss of confidence.
A few weeks back, Morman’s bat had started talking like Tiny Tim sings, and Coach Gene Stephenson pulled Morman aside for a few words of, uh, encouragement.
“I was really down,” Morman says. “I wasn’t getting any hits. I wasn’t producing. He called me over and chewed me out a little bit to get me going again.
“Some people need to be chewed out to get going, and I needed it then, definitely.”
While Stephenson thinks Morman’s occasional lack of confidence is a result of his youth and inexperience, Morman thinks it is at least partially because of his role, or lack of same, in the Shocker defense.
In short, Morman thinks being Wichita State’s designated hitter could hurt anyone’s confidence.
“It’s kind of hard to put into perspective what’s happened this season. To me, it’s kind of hard to say I had an outstanding season (no matter how good the numbers are), because I didn’t play in the field.
“I always felt if I didn’t have a good game at the plate, I’d had a bad game. ...When you play in the field, at least you feel that you belong.”
Well, Morman does belong, even if he’s not the most verbal guy on a confident and verbal team. The guy that no major college wanted as a baseball player when he graduated from high school, the guy that only three major colleges wanted after an outstanding freshman season at Iowa Western, was named second team All-American last week after his first season of big-time college ball.
No, Morman isn’t outgoing, and he’s not going to win any bench-jockeying contests. But he does have the needle out for Shocker catcher Charlie O’Brien, who has taken over as the team’s No. 1 home-run hitter.
“About mid-season, I was eight-nine home runs ahead of him, and I was rubbing it in his face about that,” says Morman. “Now that he’s past me, he’s really getting his licks in.”
But whether it’s with singles or home runs, Russ Morman is still knocking in a lot of runs when they’re needed. That means he’s getting in his licks, too.