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Morandini still savors triple play

| Monday, April 18, 2005

After his enormous success in baseball, it's easy to forget that Leechburg High School graduate Mickey Morandini still is the sixth leading scorer in Alle-Kiski Valley scholastic basketball history.

After pouring in more than 1,700 points during his four varsity seasons with the Blue Devils, Morandini decided to pursue a career in baseball.

After earning a gold medal in the 1988 Olympics, and spending 10-plus seasons with the Phillies, Cubs and Blue Jays that included a World Series appearance (1993) and an All-Star Game appearance (1995), it is obvious that Morandini made the right choice.

“I thought a bit about Division II college basketball, but I knew my future was in baseball,” Morandini said from his home in Chesterton, Ind.

Because of his solid accomplishments on the baseball diamond, Morandini will be part of the 36th induction banquet for the A-K Valley Hall of Fame May 21 at the Clarion Hotel, New Kensington.

After graduating from Leechburg in 1984, Morandini continued his baseball career at Indiana University in Bloomington. The Pirates drafted Morandini after his junior season with the Hoosiers, but he decided to stay in school and compete for a position on the Olympic squad.

Morandini earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic team that won the gold medal in what was a demonstration sport at the Seoul Games.

Demonstration sport or not, Morandini was one of a small group of athletes that experienced being part of an Olympic medal ceremony as the whole world watched.

“It was just awesome; it was one of the highlights of my career,” he said.

The Phillies drafted Morandini in 1988, knowing that their selectee would be headed to South Korea for the Olympics, but afterwards he was on the fast track to the major leagues, making his debut with Philadelphia in 1989.

Above all, the signature moment of Morandini's career came Sept. 20, 1992, at Three Rivers Stadium. The Pirates were on their way to their third consecutive Eastern Division title on a sunny Sunday afternoon when Morandini became only the ninth player in Major League Baseball history to pull off an unassisted triple play.

In the sixth inning with the scored tied at 1, the Pirates had Andy Van Slyke at second and Barry Bonds at first. As both runners broke, Jeff King hit a liner toward second base. Morandini caught the ball, stepped on second to force out Van Slyke, and tagged Bonds who had already reached second. In an instant, Morandini had his spot in baseball annals as the crowd was stunned.

The Pirates eventually won in 13 innings, and Morandini instinctively rolled the ball on the pitcher's mound as he passed by, not knowing the historic baseball probably ended up in the stands by way of a foul ball or was tossed out of the game when scuffed.

“It was bang-bang-bang, in a matter of about five seconds,” Morandini said. “I didn't realize the importance of it until after the game, and I just didn't know the significance of it when it happened.”

With his place in baseball history secured, Morandini helped lead the Phillies to an Eastern Division crown in 1993. Philadelphia, picked by many pundits to finish last in the race, led the way for almost the entire season. In the National League Championship Series, the Phillies surprised the heavily-favored Atlanta Braves in six games, allowing Morandini to realize a childhood dream of many — a chance to play in a World Series.

The Toronto Blue Jays bested the Phillies in six games on a Joe Carter home run. In 1994, Morandini's career continued to soar, but his darkest hour was about to come as his stellar season was stopped prematurely because of the players strike that began August 12.

“That was the low point,” Morandini recalled. “I was having a real good year when the strike came. We had August and September taken away from us. You got a lot of fingerpointing, and the athletes being called greedy; it was kind of demoralizing.”

When play finally resumed, Morandini would earn a spot in the 1995 All-Star Game, which the National League won, 3-2.

“That was lots of fun,” Morandini said. “Being in the same locker room with the Bondses, the Piazzas and the Larkins; I didn't even care if I got into the game or not.”

While originally thought of as a good defensive player, Morandini gradually improved his hitting skills where he eventually became a strong, two-way player, collecting 1,220 career base hits.

His career fielding percentage of .991 still ranks among the best in major-league history. Today, Morandini lives with his wife, Peg, and sons Jordan (6), Griffin (4) and Braydon (7 months) in Chesterton, a northwestern Indiana town that almost qualifies as a Chicago suburb.

Morandini has played in Phillies' fantasy camps in Florida for the past two winters, and continues to coach his sons and give individual instruction to aspiring athletes.

It's not known if Mickey's instructional program includes how to pull of an unassisted triple play.

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