Amory-native Mitch Moreland's dream takes him to the World Series

Ken Griffey, Jr never went to the World Series. Andre Dawson never went to the World Series. Rod Carew never went to the World Series.

Amory-native Mitch Moreland will make his World Series debut tonight.

Called up on July 29, the Texas Rangers rookie first baseman who made a quick climb to the Majors after he was a 17th round draft pick out of Mississippi State in 2007, has made just as fast a rise at the highest level.

“It’s unbelievable. If you would have told me this in July, I couldn’t have imagined it,” Moreland said from his San Francisco hotel room Tuesday night. “I don’t know what to really expect but some of the guys who have been here say, ‘Don’t take it for granted. In your first year you’re going to the World Series. It doesn’t happen every day.’ One of our coaches told me he’d been in the game for 40-something years as a player and a coach and this was the first time he’s ever been in the postseason. So it’s definitely a great experience, just unbelievable. I’m just trying to not take anything for granted and make the most of it, just take it all in.”

No one had to tell Moreland about the different atmosphere of playoff baseball, evening comparing it to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington that was packed all season for a team that until the American League Division Series against Tampa had never won a playoff series.

Texas has embraced the road games too, winning three inside Tampa’s Tropicana Field and two at Yankee Stadium in the playoffs.

“You can definitely feel the excitement. It feels like the stadiums are just electric,” said Moreland. “It’s a great baseball atmosphere but after that first pitch, first AB, first ground ball, you kind of calm the nerves. You can kind of calm down and realize it’s just another game and you’ve just got to go out and play.”

Moreland didn’t waste any time making his postseason presence felt. After Jorge Cantu started Game 1 in St. Petersburg against the Rays, Moreland started Game 2 and made a diving catch on a foul ball that made the highlight reels.

In Game 5, he made a difficult catch in foul ground while weaving through the photographers’ camera well, a play that made ESPN Sportscenter’s top play of the ALDS.

Moreland started nine of the 10 games after the playoff opener and had a pinch hit single against Mariano Rivera as the potential tying run in Game 1 against New York. He said the extra cameras and media around during the postseason are obvious but only until the game begins.

“It’s not that much different,” he said. “There’s a whole lot more media than there is during the regular season so you realize that. But once you get on the field playing, you don’t realize there’s a few more cameras, that every move is being watched. It’s just kind of another game. That’s what you’ve got to tell yourself, to just go out and play.”

He more than played during the six games against the Yankees.

When the World Series ticket was punched Friday in Arlington in a 6-1 win in Game 6, Moreland finished the ALCS atop the team in batting average at .389. That was also the best average of any player of the four championship teams.

The average included a 7 for 18 showing with three RBIs, two walks and three runs. His on-base percentage was a team-second .450, one back of Josh Hamilton’s .536. Curtis Granderson’s .520 for New York was the only other average better than Moreland’s in the ALCS or NLCS.

“I don’t pay attention to the stats, but you do get in grooves,” Moreland said. “You’re in better spots than others sometimes. After you have a little success or you get comfortable versus some of the pitchers, it definitely makes it a little more, I guess you would say, a little easier for you to go in there and realize that’s where you belong, that’s what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s a comfort thing. That’s for sure. And once you get comfortable and relax a little bit, you can throw some good ABs together.”

On a team as young as Moreland, the 25-year-old is quick to point out the elder leadership. Mixed in with the youth of Elvis Andrus (22), Neftali Feliz (22) and Julio Borbon (24) are guys like soon to be 34-year-old Micheal Young, the longest-tenured Ranger since 2000 and Ian Kinsler, a 28-year-old in his fifth season in Texas.

“We’ve got a few veteran guys who have had postseason experience and I’ve talked to them some about what to expect, especially here in the postseason and I know a lot of other guys have too,” Moreland said. “If we’re having our meetings, they’ll just speak up. It’s great to have those guys around. They’ve been a huge part of our team, guys like (Jeff) Francoeur and Cliff Lee and Vladdy (Guerrero) and Benji (Molina). All of those guys are just key additions that make it tick.”

Trade deadline acquisition Lee has been the story of the entire postseason, carrying around a 3-0 mark and a miniscule 0.75 ERA with 35 strikeouts, a walk and an opposing batting average of .151.

Numbers that leave even teammates scrambling for a description of him.

“He’s something else. He’s on another level,” Moreland laughed. “He gets three outs faster than anyone I’ve ever seen, then he just runs back into the dugout. He just makes it look like it’s just another day. He’s a good one. I don’t even know what to say about him. He’s…he’s just…he’s dominant.”

Diamond success-starved Texas has shown its appreciation. The park is sold out for every potential World Series game with individual tickets averaging $400 each, some going for more than $1,000 each … and selling.

“It’s a great feeling playing in front of our home fans. They’ve been behind us the whole way and here in the playoffs have been huge,” Moreland said. “They’re loud. They’re into the game. They’re all about the apparel and the Antlers and the Claw…it’s been a blast being in front of them.”

The Claw and Antlers hand signals have become the newest American League celebration fad, hands shaped like a claw that serves as a long-distance high-five and hands above the ears and head in reference to a deer after a successful play that involves speed.

“Game 6 the other night was just the best experience ever, having them on their feet the whole game,” Moreland said. “It gives you so much more confidence when you’re on the field and it motivates you that much more when you’ve got a fan base like that.”

With regular season and playoff experience under his belt, Moreland said he’s still sure there will be butterflies when the game takes its biggest stage tonight at 6:57 CT at AT&T Park.

In 47 games during the regular season, Moreland hit .255 with nine home runs and 25 RBIs. He also walked 25 times.

“The nerves will definitely be rolling pretty good, but it’s going to be a lot of fun,” he said. “We’re looking forward to it. We’re more, I think you’d say, anxious and excited more than nervous. We’re ready to get going. We feel like if we play our game, we’ll take care of business.”

Texas has taken care of all the business it has needed to take care of thus far and Moreland says he knows the combination of things that have made 2010 live up to the slogan set for it before the season began.

That slogan is “It’s Time.”

After a Game 5 win in St. Pete gave the Rangers their first playoff series win, the team abandoned the customary champagne celebration, a gesture focused on All-Star teammate and rehabbing addict Josh Hamilton.

Hamilton was all set to sit out the postgame party but teammate C.J. Wilson had arranged for a Ginger ale shower instead.

“That is exactly how our team is,” Moreland said. “We play for each other. There’s nobody here playing for themselves. We know that whoever we send out there or whoever is playing a role in the dugout, we have 100 percent trust in them that they’re going to get their job done and vice versa. The camaraderie of this team on and off the field, the resiliency and the character that this team has…great group of guys. Couldn’t be a better group and that reflects the staff. They’ve done an unbelievable job too. With that combo I feel like that’s put us in the situation we’re in and we’re out to make the most of it.”

You can’t go anywhere in Amory, Miss. or Monroe County, Miss. or Mississippi for that matter without talking about Moreland.

Since his call on July 29, he has become the dream of every baseball player in that county, players who are hearing for the first time about plays Moreland made on the local prep fields, balls that opposing coaches say still haven’t landed.

“To all the people who have been texting me and letting me know you’re behind me, it’s been awesome having your support through this whole experience,” Moreland said. “Having you there gives me a little extra drive. It’s been a lot of fun and I want to thank everybody for following me.”

Today
Texas at San Francisco, 6:57 p.m. on Fox.

Local folks
– This year’s World Series will have a local flavor to it as three different players with Northeast Mississippi connections that could see action.
For Texas, former Amory and Mississippi State standout Mitch Moreland has been a key ingredient for the Rangers at first base.
In 10 postseason games, Moreland is hitting .303.
For San Francisco, New Albany’s Eli Whiteside is the team’s second catcher, behind rookie phenom Buster Posey. Whiteside didn’t see action in the NLCS but played in 56 regular-season games.
Rangers outfielder Julio Borbon was born in Starkville in 1986 while his father attended
Mississippi State. Borbon attended high school in the Dominican Republic and played college ball at Tennessee.

Click here to vote on our sports poll – Who will win the World Series?

Brandon Speck/Monroe Journal