Brian Morrell wore the familiar smile Monday that baseball fans would always see when he starred at Shoreham-Wading River High School. He joked with his teammates on the Riverhead Tomcats, relishing each inning as his team cruised to an 11-4 victory over the North Fork Ospreys at Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton.
For Morrell, his late addition to the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League this summer was a chance to have fun again, to return home to his roots and begin a process at rebuilding his game.
Morrell’s high school career with the Wildcats ranks up there with any of the great players from Long Island in the past decade. He was a two-time Carl Yastrzemski award winner as the top player in Suffolk County; he was the 2017 Prep Baseball Report New York Player of the Year; he was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies out of high school and ultimately decided to attend the University of Notre Dame.
Even for top recruits like Morrell, that path to success at the next level can be winding. And there are no guarantees.
“It’s a tough adjustment,” Morrell said, admitting that he lost his confidence at times in college. “You just got to realize that from playing here at Shoreham, it’s the same stuff.”
Morrell began his summer in the Northwoods League as a member of the Wisconsin Woodchucks. A right-handed pitcher, Morrell began throwing after spending nearly the entire spring in college on the sidelines.
He struggled to regain his old form. In 14.1 innings, he gave up 14 earned runs.
“I was struggling, so I was like, why not just come home and have fun, try to get back to my old self,” he said. “No matter how I do here, just let it go and have fun with things.”
Morrell joined the Tomcats in early July and has played in nine games through Tuesday. He started Monday in right field — a position where fans might have never expected to see the former Wildcat, who was an excellent shortstop in high school when not pitching.
For now, Morrell said he’s focusing on throwing bullpen sessions to work on his command. In many ways, his focus is on the fundamentals, and getting back to the basics to regain his form and confidence.
“I was pitching in Northwoods, but my command was a little off and everything was just mechanically a little bit off,” he said. “I want to just work on it first and then get some live game action.”
Morrell played the ninth inning Monday at second base. The Hamptons League has also given him a chance to take some at-bats again, something he hasn’t done much at all since he arrived at Notre Dame as a pitcher.
It’s been an adjustment and his bat has started slowly — he’s 4-for-30 through nine games. But he’s shown flashes of what made him such a dynamic high school player by hitting a pair of home runs. He hit a two-run walk-off home run in his third game to win the first game of a doubleheader against Shelter Island.
“I haven’t hit in like a year and a half,” he said. “There’s one game I’m doing good and then the next game I struggle. I’m seeing the ball well, my swing is just a little slow.”
Before each game Morrell said he’s focusing on running through drills, getting into the outfield and stretching out his arm with long toss, throwing foul pole to foul pole to regain that feel for the ball.
“Everything doesn’t feel right in terms of throwing the ball, but it’s getting a lot better,” he said.
His career at Notre Dame didn’t begin as he would have hoped. He appeared in just six games as a freshman in 2018 and only two appearances as a sophomore this past spring. He said his coaches basically shut him down early in the season. He’s hoping he can earn a redshirt to regain a year of eligibility.
Notre Dame recently fired its coaching staff led by Mik Aoki and replaced him with Link Jarrett of UNC Greensboro, who was formally introduced Monday.
Morrell admitted he never seemed to align with Aoki’s coaching staff, so he’s hopeful the new coaches will be a fresh start for him.
“I heard he’s a really good guy and a really good coach, so I’m happy with he have someone who has a good sense of the game,” he said.
Outside of baseball, Morrell said he’s loved the experience of attending Notre Dame. His professors have all been great, he said. Academically, he’s focusing on psychology and business.
Morrell said he keeps in touch with his former coaches at Shoreham like Kevin Willi and Sal Mignano and will seek advice from time to time. He said Willi, who is known as a pitching coach, plans to watch one of his games and talk pitching and the mental aspect of the game.
“Everyone in this community is such a good resource,” he said. “That’s why I love being in such a small community.”