Brian Morrell knows how to balance the ebbs and flows of a challenging sport while being considerate of others.
“There are good days and bad days and you have to find the right balance,” the Shoreham-Wading River senior said. “I’m never too high and never too low. And I understand that there’s always room for improvement.”
Morrell, as a shortstop/pitcher, last spring became only the fourth junior in 49 years to capture the prestigious Yastrzemski Award, given to Suffolk’s top player. He enjoyed a monster season in which he hit a school-record 12 home runs and drew the attention of major league scouts with his 93 miles per hour fastball.
But the most lasting impression he made came when he stopped to sign autographs immediately after his Wildcats suffered a devastating extra-innings ouster from the Suffolk Class A playoffs.
“I usually get a couple of Little League players come over after a game and ask for an autograph or a ball or something,” he said. “And I like to oblige and spend some time with them. It’s important, especially when they know your name and look up to you.”
Morrell admits it wasn’t easy to get over the 7-3 playoff loss to Rocky Point. But at the time there was something much more important to do.
“I could have gone off and isolated myself because I felt bad for everyone when we lost,” he said. “But I’m glad I didn’t.”
Just last week, as Morrell grabbed a rake to repair the pitching mound, 8-year-old Ronan Young came over and asked if he could have a catch. It was a typical Morrell moment.
“I care about the kids in my community and I want to help them grow and be good people,” Morrell said. “It’s bigger than baseball. But if baseball is the connection, then so be it. So I hit Ronan a few ground balls and we had a catch. And in doing so it definitely took my mind off the loss. And I gave him my varsity hat and his smile was priceless.”
What was therapeutic for Morrell became another page in the wonderful life of a player who understands the value of being in the public eye.
“There is nothing better than spending time with younger players,” said Morrell, 18. “I want to be that guy that kids look up to. People like to say I’m a role model in the community. So if that’s the perception, then I should embrace the role. But it’s really just me being me.”
Shoreham-Wading River coach Kevin Willi showers Morrell with superlatives. He knows the Wildcats have someone special in Morrell.
“He’s cut from a different cloth,” Willi said. “He has a bright future whether he chooses to play professionally or go to Notre Dame. I’m very fortunate that we have such a star athlete that’s team first and so humble. He’s more laid back than ever. He’s never a me-first kind of guy.”
Morrell, in his fifth year of varsity ball, is a two-way impact player. He led the Wildcats to a share of the Suffolk VII title with a .405 average, including 17 extra base hits and 28 RBIs. His slugging percentage was 1.000. He also had a 5-1 pitching record with 94 strikeouts in 49 innings and a 1.13 ERA. Opponents batted only .138 against him.
How does Morrell one-up last year’s performance? Does he break Eric Strovink’s long time 28-year old school record of 25 career home runs? Morrell has 20 career homers.
He signed his baseball scholarship to Notre Dame and MLB scouts have been to his house for discussion about his future over dinner.
“I don’t think about it too much because I want to win the state title with my team,” Morrell said. “I have to focus on what’s in front of me and not look too far down the road. I want to enjoy my senior year.”
Only one Yaz recipient has ever won back-to-back awards, East Islip first baseman Ron Witmeyer in 1984 and 1985.
“It’ll be very interesting to see how or if coaches pitch to him,” Willi said. “I’d be careful.”
Morrell is not concerned about it.
“This year will be tougher than last,” he said. “Coaches may decide not to pitch to me as much. I can’t control that. But our lineup is really good so getting on base will help us win anyway.”
His mother Toni-Jo said she’s ordered extra game hats for his final season.
“I had to,” she laughed. “He keeps giving them away.”