Johnny Morales has been a familiar face at CarShield Field for the River City Rascals over the past four years, suiting up for 320 total games and helping lead his club to the past three Frontier League Championship Series.
Entering the 2017 campaign, Morales is hoping he and the Rascals can get that ring that they have been so close to the past three years, including last year when the Rascals took the Evansville Otters to the winner-takes-all game five and fell in a 1-0 pitchers duel.
“It has been a memorable career so far. Playoff runs and champagne showers, that’s some pretty fun stuff and it will never get old,” Morales said. “But, I want that ring.”
Tonight, the Virginia Tech product begins his fifth year as the Rascals shortstop and he has a chance to add on to what has already been a productive career. As Morales finds himself in tonight’s lineup, he has the opportunity to climb into the Rascals record books as an individual and help lead the 23 other guys on his team to the Rascals second Frontier League Championship (2010).
Morales is the all-time Rascals leader in runs scored (196), walks (128) and has a chance to move into first place in games played, at-bats and hits by the time his Rascals career is complete.
Since the 26-year-old made his professional debut on June 11th, 2013, 61 players have made a plate appearance in a Rascals uniform and the majority of them have not had the longevity that Morales has had professionally.
“It’s a fun way to spend your summer, especially here in River City with manager Steve Brook and my teammates. I’ve been doing this since I was four years old and it’s always been a good time,” Morales said. “I get to hit a baseball, catch a baseball and gladly get paid for it. I also have to give a huge thanks to all the people involved with my time here, Steve and the coaching staff, my teammates, host family, booster club and the rest of the people that help keep this club running.”
Whether guys retire early due to a variety of reasons, get released or end up on a new team or league, only two other guys can currently say that they have played as much games with the Rascals than Johnny Morales has: Curran Redal (337) and Eric Williams (307). With postseason action, Morales has appeared in 320 total games, including 298 regular season games and is scheduled to play in his 300th regular season game Saturday night against Normal.
“I always tell people what I told my sister when she asked me how long I am going to play baseball for,” Morales said. “I’m going to play until they tell me I can’t play anymore. It’s baseball and the childhood dream is to make it to the big leagues, I’m keeping the dream alive as much as possible.”
The dream began when he was growing up in Bellflower, California, a suburb in the south side of Los Angeles. After attending Paramount high school and being named the school’s athlete of the year as a senior, Morales became an everyday starter at Cypress College near his hometown and then transferred to Virginia Tech in 2011. The five-foot-six shortstop was a staple in the lineup for the Hokies, starting 107 out of 111 games and was named a Brooks Wallace Award quarterfinalist, given to the nation’s top collegiate shortstop.
Though undrafted, his dream remains attainable as he is still playing professional baseball and has a lifetime average of .272 with 52 doubles, six triples, seven home runs and 124 RBI. Defensively, he is solid as well and his best defensive year came in 2015 where he maintained a .972 fielding percentage in 321 total chances and was involved in a career high 41 double plays.
“I am thrilled to have Johnny back in a Rascals uniform in 2017. In my opinion he is the best defensive shortstop that I have had in my career here,” said eighth year manager Steve Brook.
“He came into camp in really good shape, had a great spring training and has been a great team leader for us for several years now.”
“Johnny is an underrated stud in my book, people look at him and he’s not the biggest guy, not the fastest guy, but I know every time he is going to put his best into every ground ball and is one of the best teammates I have ever had in my life,” fourth year pitcher Tim Koons said when arriving to spring training.
Koons has started 50 games in a Rascals uniform and is one of the four active Rascals who will put on the same uniform for the fourth year in a row, along with Nick Kennedy and Josh Ludy.
With the experienced four back in O’Fallon, along with the entire infield and more than half of the pitching staff, Morales and the Rascals have put themselves in the position to compete for a fourth consecutive postseason berth and the opportunity to bring home the second championship in franchise history.
“I feel like this team has a very good possibility. We need to stay healthy, we have had some problem with injuries in the past, myself included. As far as production goes, we just need to take it one day at a time and not try to win the whole thing in one game.”