The Nationals reacquainted themselves with an old friend at AT&T Park on Monday, and there’s no question that Michael Morse - the slugging first baseman/outfielder who was one of the most popular players on the Nats’ 2012 playoff team - is also a big hit in San Francisco.
The “May the Morse Be With You” t-shirts distributed by Hunter Pence and worn by his new teammates are one clue. The presence of Morse’s old D.C. anthem, A-ha’s “Take on Me,” over the loudspeakers later tonight will be another.
“It’s something I’ll always have with the people in D.C.,” Morse said this afternoon when told that the song is no longer played during the seventh inning stretch at Nationals Park. “But you know what? It’s to another level here.”
So is Morse’s play after a season during which he struggled with Seattle after being traded by the Nats in a three-team deal that also included the Oakland A’s. He hit .226 in 76 games with the Mariners last season, was later dealt to the Orioles, went 3-for-29 while battling a wrist injury and was lucky to land a one-year, $6 million free agent deal in San Francisco over the offseason.
He’s repaid the Giants’ faith by hitting .278 with 13 homers and 42 RBIs in 62 games in San Francisco, but still remains close to some of his former teammates, most notably Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth.
Still, he says tonight is just another game.
“I’m still real close to a lot of the guys on the team,” Morse said. “I follow a lot. But it’s going to be like, for me, any other game. It’s something I’ve turned the page on. Unbelievable organization, unbelievable team here.”
Morse’s rebound this season has helped take some of the sting of his 2013 struggles.
“Last year was a year I don’t even think about,” he said. “Just turn the page on it. I battled through some injuries. I was in a tough ... situation. I don’t know how, but I got blessed to be able to be picked up by this team in the offseason and it’s been incredible.”
He’s back on another first-place team, one where his quirky personality fits in and one that welcomes his offensive contributions.
“You look around the locker room, and not only am I a player but I’m a fan of everybody in here,” Morse said. “Everybody’s done something incredible in their career, and they want to win. And they’ve won before. Coming in here, I’m just having fun. It’s a relaxed atmosphere.”
But he has fond memories on South Capitol Street.
“I’m fortunate enough to be part of two of the greatest organizations I can think of,” he said. “When I was with D.C., they treated me with such respect and gave me an opportunity to play every day, gave me a shot. I can only thank them enough. If it wasn’t for playing there, I probably wouldn’t be here.”
It took a while for him to land in San Francisco this winter, but he’s made the most of the opportunity.
“When life gives you lemons,” Morse said with a laugh, “you make some great lemonade.”
But he’ll always wonder what might have happened if the Nationals had closed out the Cardinals in the 2012 National League Division Series and met the eventual World Series champion Giants in the next round of the postseason.
“Who knows what could have happened if (Stephen Strasburg) would have pitched? Or if we would have did something different?” Morse said. “It just shows you can be on top one year and the next year not be in the playoffs or anything. You just got to play to win that day and play to win that year.”