LSU’s Tre’ Morgan is made for the Men’s College World Series stage — Andscape
OMAHA, Neb. — Tre’ Morgan was born to play first base. Ever since his father saw him pick up a toy with his left hand, he said “that kid is going to be a baseball player.”
As a Black kid in New Orleans, that seemed like a relatively lofty if not downright fantastical goal. Yes, over the years the city has turned out quite a few ballplayers, but that was a generation ago for a town and country that has switched so much of their focus to football and basketball.
Undeterred, John Morgan’s plan worked. His son has become the best first baseman in college baseball, an electrifying talent and natural leader who shines not just through his smile and love of the game, but also through his LSU teammates who’ve seen him grow in his three years in Baton Rouge.
The LSU Tigers will face the Florida Gators in the Men’s College World Series Championship Series starting Saturday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN) and they probably wouldn’t be there without Morgan. On Thursday night, his athleticism, instincts, smarts and passion all showed up on one play words could not do justice.
In the top of the eighth inning of a scoreless game against Wake Forest, the No. 1 team in the country, the Demon Deacons’ Marek Houston laid a bunt down to the first-base side with Justin Johnson heading home on the pitch. Moving at top speed toward the ball on a middle hop, Morgan corralled it and shoveled it to catcher Alex Milazzo, who made an incredibly deft tag to snuff out what would have been the opening run of the game.
By the time umpire Travis Reininger spun around, keeping his balance to punch out Johnson, Morgan slapped his hand on the infield grass in celebration multiple times and the “Rake” Forest fans in the stand were in complete shock.
Those kinds of plays just don’t happen at this level. But when they needed it most, Morgan provided one. It was astonishing. I know, because I could barely catch my breath after watching it.
“We called our bunt coverage, and as soon as our pitcher picked up his foot, I started crashing home and he squared around a little one hopper right to me,” Morgan said following LSU’s 2-0 win, which ended with transfer power hitter Tommy “Tanks” White ending Wake Forest’s season on a walk-off, no-doubt two-run bomb to left field that sent the Tigers faithful and dugout into a frenzy. “I caught it, flicked it. We’ve done that play hundreds of times in practice. It’s worked out just like that, and I’m glad I was able to do it for my team.”
Maybe he’s done that hundreds of times on the practice field in Baton Rouge, but that isn’t Omaha, Nebraska, with 24,000 people watching.
“I thought it was a pretty good bunt. Give credit to Tre’ Morgan, he was straight vacating on that ball,” Wake Forest coach Tom Walter said after the game, still somewhat incredulous about what just happened. “The reality of the situation is you could maybe hold the runner there because I don’t think they would have been able to get an out on the backside of that because of the way he crashed.
“I think if we make a little better slide there, we’re probably safe. I think we just got a little too high with the slide. But, again, it’s a great defensive play by a great defensive first baseman. And I think both teams did everything right.”
Even Morgan’s own teammates were surprised.
“As soon as I saw the bunt, like, the angle of the bat, I knew he was going to first. I didn’t see Tre’. I was, like, ‘Oh, God, they’re going to score,’ ” White said. “Then he came flying out of nowhere and Milazzo put a great tag on, so that was pretty awesome.”
For many people in the press box that day, it was the best game they could think of in College World Series history. And Morgan made the best play of the game.
Wake Forest never recovered.
“What a play,” LSU coach Jay Johnson said Thursday. “Nobody’s played better in this World Series than Tre’. And there hasn’t been a bigger play in this World Series than that bunt play.”
And to think at one point in this season he was parked in left field. Ostensibly due to a wrist injury, but respectfully to the chagrin of many onlookers who were concerned that he might never make it back to the infield.
This season, Morgan has started 26 games at first base and 40 in left field. The last time he started in the outfield was May 26 in the SEC Tournament against Texas A&M. Last season, he started 61 games at first base and one at DH, and in 2021 he started all 63 games at first base.
The world of college baseball is a grind. Because such a priority is put on winning, the idea of development can sometimes get lost for programs looking to continue hanging banners as opposed to focusing on getting kids to the next level. The idea that “winning is the best training” doesn’t always apply to every player.
Because the system is set up in such a way that if you choose college over getting drafted or playing pro ball, you’ve got to be in college three years before you’re eligible again. Meaning, if a college coach decides he needs you elsewhere in any particular moment, that’s where that player will be. Yeah, you can transfer, but the idea of, “I’m good enough where I am, I’m going pro” isn’t that simple.
Throw in the sociological scouting of Black players in particular, and suddenly you might find yourself effectively backtracking on all your previous training and ability to learn something new. Yes, you’re still playing baseball, but the toll it can take mentally is no small matter.
Sometimes, it works. Boston Red Sox closer Kenley Jansen was a catcher early in his career. Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts was an infielder before he got drafted by the Red Sox, who moved him to the outfield because they had Dustin Pedroia. For pitchers, it’s a whole other animal in college. The recent hyper focus on velocity as a primary tool has led to arm burnout for the sake of college wins that thwart pro careers. Multiple Tommy John surgeries for pitchers is a relatively common thing.
Morgan and his family accepted the circumstance as best they could.
“That’s one of those things where you could either go ahead and say, ‘man, the lemonade is bitter.’ Or you could say, ‘man, add a little sugar to this. Then you might have a real drink. Add a little sweet tea to this, and you got an Arnold Palmer,’ ” his dad explained Friday.
“So, a 30-minute conversation with my wife, basically with Tre’ on the phone on the conference call, was like, ‘Hey, I thought I was pretty good at first base.’ I said, ‘Yeah, you’re the best that I’ve ever seen. But, let’s see. Can you be the best that I’ve ever seen in left field? Let’s see. Can you tell them, ‘Well, this is another challenge opportunity.’
“I said, ‘Are you still starting? Are you still one of those seven positioned players that they’re going to put out there? Are you still starting?’ He says, ‘I’m still starting.’ I said, ‘Well, then you’re going to be the best left fielder that you can be. You’re starting at a D-I Power 5 level, All-American first baseman. That’s about to transition to being an All-American outfielder.’ ”
It can be frustrating to see as a fan of the game. Black players viewed as fast are often instantly put into the outfield because they’ve got “legs,” — the idea being if their arm is that good and the speed is a plus, outfield makes sense. It’s a confounding method of thinking that completely disregards the baseball IQ of certain guys. Just think about the last time you saw a Black third basemen.
“I don’t know why you’d ever take him off of first base,” Todd Walker, 1993 Men’s College World Series Most Outstanding Player and 10-year big leaguer, said this week. “I played with that kind of guy in Derrek Lee. For me, you feel comfortable and so you end up throwing nice throws, but man, you know that he’s going to be able to do whatever [at first base] and the footwork’s there with moving around. So, the space that you have [as an infielder throwing to first base] to throw the baseball is larger than most people. Most people just want a clunker over there that can hit 30 home runs.”
We could go on for days about this, but Morgan has every tool in the book to show why he’s not only fun to watch but is a legit advantage to any team he plays on. The basic term “athletic first baseman” is a brain breaker for many baseball minds, based on tradition or old habits. Morgan’s skill set is unique, because he and his dad have worked on it since he was 6 years old, doing drills in which young Tre’ had to make 10 clean picks off batted ball on the dirt before he could move on to the next drill, for example.
“I was always like this guy is probably by far the best defensive first baseman in our league. That just shows the versatility that he has. That was an incredible play last night,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “They gambled. They executed perfectly. He’s competitive at the plate. He hates to strike out. I know that. He’s up there to swing the bat. He’s an emotional player. And I think the other players feed off of it.”
The question is not, if, but when Morgan will make it to the big leagues. Coming out of Brother Martin High School in New Orleans, he’s already a star not just in his hometown, but in college baseball circles in general. But what’s most refreshing about Morgan is that he is an actual human being with a living, breathing personality, which we frankly don’t always find in baseball players of any type.
While flair on the field is one thing, there’s also the matter of just basic congeniality, which is not exactly a strong suit in the sport. Sure, you might see guys getting after it in front of their teammates, but the way college baseball works across the board — typically grinding kids down to robotic baseball paste once they open their mouths — you’d think their sentences were written by artificial intelligence.
Morgan isn’t that kid. Not that he’s some loud personality, he’s just a well-adjusted kid having the time of his life. He says he’s not even close to the most flashy personality in his own family. His hair is probably the so-called goofiest thing about him and even that isn’t a big deal, just something that happened. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, he stopped cutting his hair. When he got to LSU, his sister dyed it blond. That’s what we get now.
“My dad’s very outgoing. I kind of didn’t get that trait as much as he has it,” Morgan said Friday. “But, I mean, that shows how much confidence and faith that they have in me. And, I mean, without my parents and my family, this would all be a dream.
“From growing up in New Orleans, this really doesn’t seem real. And I’m glad that I’m here to show kids growing up in New Orleans that this is a reality. Like this could happen. And it’s all a credit to them.”
If you’ve been watching these last three years, you’ve seen the player and the person develop. Whether or not his Tigers can win their seventh national championship, the bond with his teammates is special to watch.
“These past three years playing with this guy, he’s made me such a better player,” Morgan said, referring to Dylan Crews, who came to LSU at the same time. Both played on the U.S. Collegiate National Team in 2022. “He gave me a credit about my mental game earlier in this interview, and without him, it would be way worse. He showed me how to control my emotions, how to not get too high or not get too low. So, I appreciate him for it. And we’re the best of friends.”
His game is big league, his ego is not. Just a dude with a tremendous zeal and skill for the game.
“He’s giving camps in his town to let kids and parents know that, ‘Hey, this sport really exists, and your kid can play it,’ ” John Morgan said proudly. Dad is having a blast and the cameras love him in the stands. “And these are the foundations. These are the fundamentals and foundations of what you need to do to get it started.
“Man, it’s a lot of fun. It’s been a lot of fun because it started with just us: Tre’ and I, and my wife. I had to get her to buy into it ’cause she thought I was crazy. I said, ‘He’s the best I’ve ever seen.’ And she’s like, ‘Man, what are you talking about? This kid? How can you make that blanket statement? You haven’t been everywhere.’ I said, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to start going everywhere.’ ’Cause I need to see if there’s somebody better than him. And I need to see how much he wants to play this game.’ And so here we are.”
As for his opponents, the respect is unmatched.
“Yeah, I think I’ve seen enough of Tre’,” O’Sullivan said with a laugh Friday. “I’m ready for Tre’ to move on to the next level.”
Lucky for him, and perhaps unlucky for Florida, we’ve still got two games for Morgan to show the rest of America what he’s all about.