On October 9, 2012, four East Texas men lost their lives in a plane crash in Wyoming. One of those men was Marshall’s own James Morgan, a 2001 graduate of Marshall High School and a 2005 graduate of ETBU where he left a mark on and off the baseball diamond.
“James was an upperclassman when I was a freshman in high school,” Marshall High School alum Jared Hood recalls. “He was always a guy that went out of his way to talk to the younger guys and ask how their families were, how they were doing, how ball was going and everything like that. As a young guy, that always meant a lot to me for the older guys to take part and show an invested interest in the younger kids. Because of him, that’s something I’ve always tried to take with me throughout my career of playing and coaching.”
Hood is now the head baseball coach at ETBU and is determined to preserve Morgan’s memory with James Morgan Day, which is slated for Saturday when the Tigers play host to Louisiana College in a double-header to finish off the three-game series that is set to begin tonight. Also, in his honor, every year the team votes on someone to wear James’ No. 16 and this year that is shortstop Jake Miller.
“I think it’s one of the coolest things ever,” Miller said. “It’s honestly one of the greatest honors I’ve ever received. I’ve definitely heard about James Morgan and the guys who have represented him – Conner Combs and Dylan Sumpter, I got to play with him, so seeing who they are, the role models and the guys who live their life for Christ – that gives me an idea of what James Morgan was like. I think it’s a really cool honor and it’s definitely something to which I hold myself to higher standards and represent his name. I think it’s a really cool opportunity.”
Miller chose the song, “Nobody” by Casting Crowns for his walkup song as he steps up to the plate to bat into the two-hole position of the Tigers’ lineup.
“I love that song,” Miller said “I could listen to it on repeat. It makes me feel comfortable going up there.
“I always say a quick prayer before the game and that’s about it, listen to worship music and pray,” Miller added when asked what his pregame routine is like.
From the sounds of it, it’s a routine probably not far off from that of Morgan.
“James was an active member of Immanuel Baptist Church, an active member of the church community and he volunteered his time at the Marshall Youth Baseball Association, served on the board in umpiring, which I think these days is something everybody can look up to, volunteer their time to give back into their community,” Hood said. “Here at ETBU, he was a leader on the field and off the field. His teammates loved him. They looked up to him. The man was a good ballplayer. He was able to put up some numbers and do some things. He set a lot of records here at ETBU.”
A series win over Louisiana College would certainly help make James Morgan Day more enjoyable for the Tigers who currently own an overall record of 16-10 and an American Southwest Conference record of 11-4. However, that will be anything but an easy task for the Tigers as they go up against the Wildcats who are 19-4 overall and 15-0 against conference opponents.
“They’re going to be a good club,” Hood said of the Wildcats. “They’re winning a lot of ball games. We’ve got some guys doing some pretty good things. The key to beating them is we’ve got to control the strike zone and keep those guys off balance. They’ve got a potent offense. For us offensively, we’ve just got to do our job at the plate. We’ve got to be competitive. Defensively I think it always boils down to making a routine play. The bottom line is we’ve just got to go outcompete somebody. I feel like we’ve got the team to where if we come out, stand toe-to-toe and outcompete somebody, we’re going to have a good chance to win.”
“We’ve got to play like we’ve been playing,” said Morgan, who has a batting average of .333, 26 hits, 11 home runs, 21 runs, two triples and 29 RBI. “I don’t think we need to change anything up. We just need to go out there and have fun playing. I know we can swing it and we can pitch really well. If we just play our game, I don’t think we’ll have any doubts about winning the series.”
The first game of the Louisiana College series is slated for 3 p.m. today before the two teams go head-to-head Saturday in a double header with the first game slated for 1 p.m. and the final game at 4 p.m. on James Morgan Day.
“That’s crazy,” Hood said of Morgan and Miller having the same initials. “We’ve been very fortunate and blessed to have that number taken care of for the past six years or so and there’s no doubt in my mind that that tradition is continuing. All those characteristics that James represented and lived through his life, those are characteristics we strive to reach every day. We feel that Jake is unbelievable deserving and we hope the Morgan family is proud that he’s wearing the No. 16.”