Five weeks after being released from a hospital following a near-death, two-week bout with pneumonia, University of Miami baseball coach Jim Morris is definitely feeling better these days.
How can you tell? The 63-year-old skipper spent all of last week doing what he always does at this time of year — agonizing over Friday’s 5 p.m. deadline for Major League Baseball draft picks to sign with their pro teams.
“We’ve got six guys, counting two guys on our team, we’re waiting on,” Morris said Tuesday before rattling off the list of names.
“You just don’t know. I can give them a scholarship and tell them I love them. But the pro people can give them a scholarship plan, tell them they love ’em and give them a million dollars. I don’t have to tell you which one they’re going to choose.”
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The fact Morris is talking shop is a welcome sign for his players, who ended their season — Morris’ 20th as UM coach — last month in Louisville, Ky., in the NCAA tournament unsure if they would ever see their coach again.
“It’s definitely good to see him,” said freshman All-American third baseman David Thompson, who, like many of his teammates, didn’t know how ill Morris actually was until weeks later.
“Each time I’ve seen him since he’s been back, he seemed to be a lot better with a lot more energy. He got real sick there. It’s nice to see him back at work.”
Morris was so stricken by the illness that he said he doesn’t remember anything about how the Hurricanes’ season ended — even though he spoke on the phone to his players and assistants and supposedly watched them play in the NCAA regional from his hospital bed on an iPad.
“You can see how stupid I was — I almost died in the hospital,” said Morris, who added that he spent 13 days inside Duke University Hospital in Durham, N.C., before his release June 6.
“It was the medication, I guess. I got something — a bacteria — in my bloodstream, too. It was the combination of the two, that and pneumonia. It knocked me down in the dirt.”
Source of it all
Morris said it all started about a month before the team took off for the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Durham. A little cough he kept ignoring grew to severe chest pains as the team bus was about 10 minutes away from the stadium before UM’s tournament finale against Clemson.
“I told [assistants] Gino [DiMare] and JD [Arteaga] to get the guys off the bus. When everybody was off the bus, I told our trainer to call 911,” Morris said. “It was probably dumb because I was having chest pains. But I didn’t want to affect anything on game day at the ACC tournament. I won’t do that again.”
Morris said he doesn’t remember anything from the time he got off the bus that day until about the time he got out of the hospital and made the long drive home from Durham with his wife.
Although Morris feels better, his health remains a concern. He said doctors still don’t want him getting on a plane for another few weeks because of the amount of water in his lungs, and the potential for blood clots in his legs. Morris said he goes in for chest X-rays and to have blood drawn every Wednesday.
He said doctors have told him it probably will be another few weeks before he feels completely recovered. He said he has regained about eight of the 20 pounds he lost throughout the ordeal.
Be more proactive
Morris, who has battled other health issues in the past, said he no longer will try and be a tough guy and wait to see a doctor. But he also has no plans to slow down or walk away from the game. He loves it too much.
“Most of our guys are coming and most of our position players are back,” Morris said. “I thought we would lose [outfielder] Dale Carey, but we didn’t. He’s back. Tyler Palmer, our leadoff hitter, is back. We’ve got to replace Chantz Mack in right, but our catcher Garrett Kennedy is back. Kennedy is maybe our most improved player or MVP for last year. Our pitching rotation, the strength of our club, should be back. B-Rad [Bryan Radziewski], [Chris] Diaz, [Andrew] Suarez, [Javi] Salas, our closer.
“You can tell I’m excited. I think we’re going to have a good club next year with these guys and our recruiting class.”
Morris lost two high-end picks who signed with their respective teams early in the signing period: outfielder Matt McPhearson (fourth round, Arizona Diamondbacks) and right-hander J.D. Underwood (fifth round, Los Angeles Dodgers).
But of the six players Morris was waiting on at Friday’s deadline, none ended up signing pro contracts.
The players the Canes were sweating out most Friday were power hitting Hialeah Mater Academy outfielder Willie Abreu (14th round, Cincinnati Reds) and Derik Beauprez (25th round, Boston Red Sox), a 6-5, 210-pound right-handed pitcher from Cherry Creek, Colo., who can hit 95 mph on the radar gun.
Other Hurricanes signees who were drafted include C/1B Zack Collins, Plantation American Heritage (27th round, Reds) and OF Jacob Heyward, McDonough, Ga. (38th round, Atlanta Braves). And Morris said he already expected Radziewski (29th round, St. Louis Cardinals) and Salas (39th round, Minnesota Twins) to return.
With all six players in the fold, you’ll have to forgive Morris for being so enthusiastic about the team’s outlook for next season. Indeed, the first game does not even arrive until 2014, but being knocked out of commission during the climax of a season and facing your own mortality can make anyone yearn for the next season to come quickly.
“I feel like I missed the season,” Morris said. “There was no closure.”