Thursday, August 18, 2011

It’s All About the Plushdamentals

In case you weren't able to make it out to Miller Park for this (now) past homestand, here is my cover story from GameDay Magazine on Nyjer "Tony Plush" Morgan:

It’s All About the Plushdamentals
By Doug Russell

Baseball is a game whose history is chocked full of colorful characters.

Mark Fidrych used to talk to the ball and manicure the pitcher’s mound with his hands. Larry Andersen used to ponder things such as whether or not one could run out of invisible ink. Al Hrabosky used to menace batters with not only his long hair and Fu Manchu mustache, but his in-between pitch antics which included walking off the mound, turning away from the batter, and rubbing the baseball after every pitch.

The Brewers of the early 1980’s had colorful characters as well, featuring players such as Gorman Thomas and Pete Vuckovich, who embodied Milwaukee’s fun-loving, blue-collar work ethic.

Fast forward 30 years later, and Milwaukee once again has one of the game’s most talked about personalities. His birth certificate reads Nyjer Jamid Morgan, but fans and teammates alike have come to know him by his alter ego, “Tony Plush.”

“It came from just me and my friends back home back when we were about 20-years old,” Morgan says today about the origin of what he calls his ‘gentleman’s name.’ “They were just our little scumbag names, and they basically just stuck.”

When Morgan arrived in Milwaukee, it was with little fanfare and was thought to be simply a depth move made by General Manager Doug Melvin. At the time, Morgan was thought to be nothing more than a spot-starter until the injured Corey Hart could return to the lineup from a strained oblique. In center, the Brewers were set with the speedy and defensively-minded Carlos Gomez patrolling Miller Park between their two All-Star outfielders.

However, it did not take long for the man known as “T-Plush” to make his presence felt. April 7, in the Brewers seventh game of the season, Morgan took out Atlanta Braves All-Star catcher Brian McCann in a collision at home plate, scoring his first run as a Brewer. Less than a week later, he did the same thing to his former teammate with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Ryan Doumit. A legend had been born.

Morgan says that’s just the way he plays. Considering that he was an elite youth hockey player as a teen, it has been suggested that Morgan brings a hockey player’s mentality to baseball. Morgan was so good on skates, as a matter of fact; he left his San Francisco home as a youth to play for the North Okanagan Kings of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League. From there, he played with the Nelson Leafs and then the Delta Ice Hawks of the Pacific International Junior Hockey League, before reaching the Major Junior level of the Western Hockey League where he played briefly for the legendary Regina Pats.

Morgan dismisses the idea that hockey’s violence has anything to do with the way he plays baseball, even with an opposing catcher standing in the way.

“No, I don’t think so,” Morgan says. “It’s just understanding that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, so I just go out there and try to leave it all out there on the field. It’s for that one person who has never seen me play before understanding the way I play, that I always go out and play hard.”

So far, the only thing making more headlines nationally than Morgan’s play has been his “Tony Plush” personality. Morgan has particularly become a favorite of national media personality Jim Rome, who featured Morgan recently on his ESPN television show. Morgan’s loose attitude and megawatt smile were on full display for the entire country to see.

“This is me,” Morgan says of his persona. “I mean, we’re going out there playing a kid’s game even though it’s our job and our livelihood, but I just never forgot the fact that this is still a game. If things are going bad, I try to go back to when I was in Little League, where if you took an 0-for-4, the first thing you were worried about is who’s parents are bringing the orange slices and Twinkies! I just try to make it fun.”

For Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, part of the fun has been watching his new centerfielder’s stellar defense and clutch hitting from the dugout. For most of the season, Morgan’s batting average has been around .320, but gets even better when the stakes are higher. As of August 1, Morgan leads the Brewers with a .378 average with runners in scoring position, a statistic in where the team has struggled.

However, even with Morgan making his manager’s job easier on the field, Roenicke at times has had to reign in Morgan’s alter-ego.

After an incident in San Francisco late last month where Giants fans misinterpreted Morgan’s gesture to them, Roenicke had to have a talk with his talented centerfielder. “A lot of it is having fun,” Roenicke told reporters after the game. “It's not like its all malice when he’s doing things. This whole ‘Tony Plush’ thing where he thinks he’s an entertainer, there is a point where you've got to be a little careful.”

One question that Morgan has been asked repeatedly is where Nyjer Morgan ends and Tony Plush begins. For Morgan, “Plush” starts once he enters Miller Park.

“Tony Plush is clocked in right now!” Morgan explained with a broad smile while sitting in the Brewers dugout after batting practice recently. “When I step on the field, I’m an entertainer. I try to let people get their money’s worth when they come to watch the Brewers or T-Plush play. Everybody has a better half, I’m just not afraid to go and throw it out there!”

Considering the success Morgan has had since arriving in Milwaukee, Brewers fans are just glad that he is patrolling centerfield at Miller Park, no matter what his name is.

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