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Gotta Go: Reflecting on a Bittersweet Baseball Season

While mired in a rather boring Brewers offseason, with the only (well, only significant) baseball news unfortunately being the continuing A-Rod saga, I figured that the best thing to do would be to look back to a simpler, more idyllic time- namely, 2011. And since Nyjer Morgan is eyeing a return to the major leagues after a successful season with the Yokohama DeNA BayStars of NPB, my window for publishing this personal essay I wrote last September for my college writing class is rapidly shrinking. I've modified the essay slightly (which was a bit of a challenge) to post it here, such as image placement and links to the sources of quotes. The original audience of my essay was my college writing professor- who hasn't followed baseball closely since Ozzie Smith retired- and as a result the way I summarize certain aspects of baseball and the 2011 Brewers may seem a little repetitive or self-evident to the members of BCB. At any rate, here is my essay:

Gotta Go: A Bittersweet Baseball Season

Part One: Equal Parts Entertainer and Athlete

via mlb.com

SWEAT glistens off his face as he banters with an amused reporter. An hour earlier, he hit a clutch three-run double to help extend the Milwaukee Brewers' winning streak to seven games. Equal parts entertainer and athlete, Nyjer Jamid Morgan buzzes with confidence. His smile, youthful and energetic, shows no symptoms of the half-decade he spent skating the minor league hockey circuit of Western Canada, far away from the bright lights of Major League Baseball. Despite being listed as 5'10" and 180 pounds, Morgan seems larger than life during the interview. While they say the camera adds ten pounds, Morgan's stage presence should probably be attributed to his alter ego, Tony Plush. That's right, Nyjer Morgan has an alter ego. One of his teammates gives the perfect analogy: "Beyoncé has her Sasha Fierce, and so he's got his thing, his Tony Plush" (Snyder). Morgan/Plush uses a vocabulary all his own, crediting his hit to "proper plushdamentals." The interviewer plays the straight man of Tony Plush's one-man comedy duo, tossing softball questions for him to knock out of the park: "Seven in a row, it has to feel good..." but before he can finish Nyjer Morgan leans into the microphone and gives a guttural, emphatic "AAAHHH!"

"This, this roll you guys are on..."

"AAAAHHHH!"

"uh, just talk a little bit about it."

"AAAAAHHHHH! That's it. Gotta Go! AAAAHHH!" Plush barely finishes his last yell before he spins and sprints down the dugout and out of view of the camera, presumably to continue the celebration with the rest of his jubilant teammates.

"AAAHHH!"

Part Two: Plush Nation, WI

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via img.gawkerassets.com

DESPITE the alter egos, quirky interviews, and unique vocabulary, Morgan is keenly aware of his role as a baseball player, and of the fact that he is being paid six figures to play a game: "I just figure we're entertainers. We're on one of the biggest stages. Trust me, if I was batting .202, I wouldn't be doing the [s--] I'm doing. People pay good money to see entertainment, and I want to be the entertainer" (Crasnick). In Milwaukee, a Midwestern city with a small-town vibe, fans wholeheartedly embraced the "Plush movement." Morgan provided unparalleled access into the life of a professional baseball player through the use of his twitter handle, @TheRealTPlush. For example, he once sent out a tweet asking his followers what he should do for fun on an off day. A fan replied that he should fly a kite by Lake Michigan, so Morgan went out and got himself a kite. A few hours later a photo of Nyjer Morgan flying a kite was on his twitter page and a few more bemused Wisconsinites became citizens of Plush Nation. Appropriately, it is the face of the Brewers franchise, Ryan Braun, who sums up what made Nyjer Morgan such a hit in Milwaukee: "He comes to the park with a smile on his face, and he enjoys life as much as he enjoys playing baseball. We've kind of embraced his personality, and it's probably enabled him to become a better baseball player. It's worked for everybody'' (Crasnick). As ironic as it may seem, Nyjer Morgan isn't going to pretend to be someone he's not. He is a genuine entertainer, and that's something Milwaukee could get behind.

Part Three: Plush Nation, CA

AS Milwaukee rallied around their rally-starter, winning over fans as they kept winning, I watched. Sometimes from the stands, where I cracked brittle peanut shells and cheered with the crowds that swelled on the excited tension that maybe this was our year, and sometimes from home, where the whole scene was set before me on thirty-two inches of high-definition color, I watched. And as I watched I had to come to terms with my impending separation from it all. Perennial losers through my middle school years, the Brewers had finally blossomed into a title contender for my junior year of high school - but I wouldn't be there to see it. A parents' divorce and I was gone, exiled two time zones away to Los Angeles. Now the sunshine of Santa Monica Beach and promise and potential of everything California had to offer doesn't sound bad at all, but when I told my new high school classmates I was from Milwaukee on the first day of school, the second most common response I got was "I'm sorry," second only to "Where?" I think the pride I had in being from Milwaukee only increased after I left - and of course being a fan of an exciting, winning ballclub made it easy to be proud.

Part Four: Role Player, Supporting Actor

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via i.cdn.turner.com

NOT only did the Brewers excite a city and its expatriates, they also completely redefined my own perceptions about baseball. In Little League, baseball was all about following directions. Watch the batter, keep your hands at the ready position, and whatever you do, don't pick the dandelions in left field. In part because of the rigid structure that my coaches tried to impose on the inherent chaos that is peewee baseball, and partly because of genetics, I never truly enjoyed playing the sport that I loved to watch on TV. But after a while even the professional game became monotonous. The personalities of the perennially mediocre Brewers teams of the 2000s have blended together into one bland memory. There are a couple of exceptions (I always loved how Milwaukee native and utility infielder Craig Counsell waggled the bat high above his lanky frame in a desperate attempt to improve his mediocre batting average) but nearly all of my favorite baseball memories are from the 2011 season, the season of Tony Plush. I think there's something more about Nyjer Morgan than just his antics that keeps me interested in him. He was only supposed to be a role player, a supporting actor to the lead performances of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. But the Brewers gave Morgan an outlet to be an entertainer, and he ended up stealing the show. It's Morgan who takes center stage on a Sports Illustrated cover with Braun and Fielder, it's Morgan and Plush whose jerseys were in the top five most selling items in the Brewers team store, and it was Plush who had the game-winning hit to send the Brewers to their best finish in my lifetime. He was able to succeed at a sport that hadn't always been kind to him, and he did it on his own terms.

Best Finish in My Lifetime

Part Five: End of the Finish

REALITY has caught up with the Brewers since the 2011 season ended. Prince Fielder left for the greener pastures of Detroit and Ryan Braun was found guilty of using PEDs after denying and lying for a year and a half. As for Nyjer Morgan, players don't tend to get interviewed when they're batting .202, no matter how many alter egos they may have. Looking back, I don't regret embracing the 2011 Brewers. I think Nyjer Morgan himself best summed up the Nyjer Morgan experience: "I've had my ups and I've had my downs in this game. I've been buried, chewed up and spit out, and I know how to handle it. But that's what's going to make you a better person and a better player. Just being able to handle all the people's opinions and not paying attention to it, and just understanding yourself. I mean, shoot, I know I'm not crazy. I just have fun" (Snyder). Like Morgan, I've certainly had ups and downs in my life - I think everyone has. But Morgan and the Milwaukee nine never let negativity or criticism get to them. They went out, did their thing, and got results. That's what made the 2011 Brewers such a fun ride.

Part Six: Gotta Go

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via youtube.com (video removed)

UNFORTUNATELY, Nyjer Morgan and Tony Plush are no longer with us. No, he's not dead; he's playing baseball in Japan after none of the other 29 Major League Baseball teams even tried to sign him. He's out of sight, for the most part, but once in a while he'll post an update on his twitter account from Japan and my mind will drift back to a time when Tony Plush gave something for Milwaukee to cheer about and to laugh about. Then, "Gotta Go! AAAAHHH!" and he spins and disappears out of my mind's eye and all I have left is the memories.

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