Field of mem­o­ries

UM base­ball coach Mor­ris retiring with trove of magic mo­ments.

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Christy Cabr­era Chiri­nos Staff writer

CORAL GABLES — Jim Mor­ris isn’t quite sure when it will hit him.

Maybe it will be Satur­day night, af­ter Miami wraps up its fi­nal home­s­tand of the year against Bos­ton Col­lege and he’ll walk off the field at Mark Light Sta­dium for what will most likely be the last time.

Or maybe it will hap­pen next week in Durham, N.C., when the Hur­ri­canes fin­ish play at the At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence Tour­na­ment.

Mor­ris doesn’t know when the re­al­iza­tion will truly sink in that his re­mark­able 25-year run as Miami’s base­ball coach is over, but he does be­lieve that run has the po­ten­tial to go a lit­tle longer than some might have thought even just a few weeks ago.

The young Hur­ri­canes are 25-25 and en­ter the fi­nal week­end of the reg­u­lar sea­son rid­ing an 8-game win streak. If they win the ACC Tour­na­ment, the sea­son will con­tinue. Any­thing short of that, even with a sweep of Bos­ton Col­lege, will more than likely have Miami on the out­side look­ing in for the sec­ond straight year.

A fi­nal NCAA Tour­na­ment berth would mean the retiring coach would have a few more chances to wear the uni­form that has be­come so ubiq­ui­tous on him play­ers aren’t fazed when they see him sport­ing it hours be­fore the first pitch of the day is thrown.

“It’s 8 a.m. and [No.] 3 is ready for a 1 o’clock game,” Hur­ri­canes out­fielder Michael Burns said laugh­ingly, us­ing the

“I’ve had all the fun and pun­ish­ment any per­son de­serves.” Jim Mor­ris, UM base­ball head coach

nick­name play­ers have be­stowed on Mor­ris be­cause of his jer­sey num­ber. “He has his pants on at break­fast and his hair’s al­ways look­ing like he just got out of the shower. It’s the lit­tle things like that that I’ll al­ways re­mem­ber.”

There are, of course, many other mem­o­ries Burns and other Miami play­ers past and present can re­call from Mor­ris’ time in Coral Gables.

Head­ing into this week­end’s fi­nal reg­u­lar-sea­son se­ries against the Ea­gles, there have been more than 1,000 wins at Miami and more than 1,500 wins in the en­tirety of his 41-year ca­reer. Mor­ris has led the Hur­ri­canes to 13 Col­lege World Se­ries ap­pear­ances and two na­tional ti­tles. While Mor­ris has been at Miami, 166 of his play­ers have been se­lected in the Ma­jor League Base­ball draft, with 24 go­ing on to play in the big leagues.

And then there are the mo­ments that haven’t al­ways been as glam­orous, like when Burns — who was be­ing re­cruited by Miami af­ter a stint at Cisco Ju­nior Col­lege — was di­ag­nosed with a rare soft tis­sue can­cer that could have ended his base­ball ca­reer.

Mor­ris didn’t stop re­cruit­ing Burns af­ter the out­fielder’s di­ag­no­sis or pull his schol­ar­ship of­fer. In­stead, the coach and his staff pro­vided Burns with en­cour­age­ment and re­minded him that when he was ready, they still wanted him to be a Hur­ri­cane.

“It made me feel like I did some­thing just get­ting a call from Miami and that’s be­cause of him,” Burns said. “Then to hear him call me back when I had things go wrong and he called and wanted me to still come here, it’s a tes­ti­mony to the kind of peo­ple they are, all of them, and that’s all led by 3. It’s been awe­some to play for him and pick his brain and lis­ten to the sto­ries that he tells. … He’s taught me how to han­dle hard times and he leads this pro­gram the way it’s sup­posed to be done.”

Burns is hardly the only Hur­ri­cane grate­ful for the im­pact Mor­ris has had on his life. Ear­lier this year, dozens of for­mer play­ers re­turned to Miami for the base­ball team’s pre­sea­son ban­quet and alumni game. Later, many of those for­mer play­ers sur­prised Mor­ris with a sort of roast in his honor at a Co­conut Grove ho­tel, re­gal­ing him with sto­ries and their mem­o­ries of their for­mer coach.

When the Hur­ri­canes hosted UCF last month, Knights coach Greg Love­lady — who was the catcher for both of Miami’s na­tional cham­pi­onship teams un­der Mor­ris — pre­sented the coach with an in­scribed wooden replica of home plate that re­calls some of the time the two spent to­gether.

To­day, that gift is dis­played promi­nently in Mor­ris’ of­fice, a sign of the bond be­tween the coach and his mentee.

“You re­mem­ber all the great things he’s done for the pro­gram and to take what coach [Ron Fraser] re­ally built and con­tinue that, it can’t be easy,” Love­lady said of Mor­ris. “You look at all the cham­pi­onships, the trips to the World Se­ries, he’s done such a great job with that and just in col­lege base­ball in gen­eral. He’s been one of the pi­o­neers of tak­ing this game and mov­ing it for­ward to what it is to­day. I’m grate­ful for ev­ery­thing he’s done, not just for me, but for the pro­gram and for col­lege base­ball in gen­eral. … It’s just weird to think about the Univer­sity of Miami base­ball pro­gram with­out Coach Mor­ris in the du­gout, lead­ing the way. … He’s done so many pos­i­tive things for the pro­gram.”

Mor­ris, who has of­ten said he wouldn’t be at Miami with­out Fraser’s en­cour­age­ment or with­out the com­mit­ment given to him by late UM ath­letic di­rec­tor Paul Dee, doesn’t know what will come next, once he takes off that Miami uni­form for the last time.

He plans to spend time with his fam­ily, in­clud­ing his wife, Nhan, and 6-year-old son, Will, both of whom are reg­u­lar visi­tors at Mark Light Field, along with the fam­ily dog, Bent­ley. There may be a few rounds of golf and some ses­sions at the gym. Maybe he’ll even pur­sue a kind of sec­ond ca­reer in real es­tate, which has al­ways been one of his hob­bies.

For now, Mor­ris says he doesn’t fore­see him­self pur­su­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in base­ball — or even coach­ing Will’s youth league team. Af­ter two tough sea­sons dur­ing which the Hur­ri­canes have strug­gled, he ac­knowl­edges it’s the right time for him to leave the du­gout.

That will might mean tak­ing a break from the game that has de­fined much of his life since child­hood.

He ex­pects it will be bit­ter­sweet once the fi­nal out of his fi­nal game — when­ever that may be — is recorded.

“I’ll miss go­ing on the field, that’s for sure,” Mor­ris said. “But it’s the right time for me. I’m 68 years old and I’ve spent 41 years as a head coach. I’ve had all the fun and pun­ish­ment any per­son de­serves. There’s been a lit­tle bit of both, but I’ve al­ways had a lot more fun. … I’ll miss the play­ers and the com­pe­ti­tion. There’s so much that has made this spe­cial.”

“I’ll miss go­ing on the field, that’s for sure.” Jim Mor­ris, UM base­ball head coach

JIM RASSOL/STAFF FILE PHOTO

In Feb­ru­ary, Univer­sity of Miami head coach Jim Mor­ris, left, and Florida At­lantic Univer­sity head coach John McCor­mack greeted each other be­fore a game in Boca Ra­ton.

JIM RASSOL/STAFF FILE PHOTO

Dur­ing his 25 years in Miami, Jim Mor­ris has led the Hur­ri­canes to 13 Col­lege World Se­ries ap­pear­ances and two na­tional ti­tles.

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