Then he grinned and asked if he could stick around while the Devil Rays finished the spring by making their debut at Tropicana Field. With his usual devotion to duty, Morman wanted to get a feel for it in case Tampa Bay called him up. He got more than he bargained for when he hit the Trop's first home run. It didn't win him a reprieve, though, and because it came in an exhibition game, it won't be remembered by anybody except devotees of the most obscure trivia. But for the next 2½ months, there must have been nights when Morman wondered if it was the last homer he would ever hit.
It wasn't until June 12 that he finally clouted his first one for the Durham Bulls. Number 2 came four days later, but it was still a far cry from last year in Charlotte, when he had 25 by July. This year, as he struggles to keep his batting average above .250, he finds himself racked by frustration and its cousin, confusion. "It's the hardest season I've had since I broke into A ball," he says. "All I can do is try hitting myself out of whatever is going on." So he has taken extra batting practice and studied videotape, tinkered with his stance and even changed his uniform number to lucky 45. He spent more time on the phone with Loretta, too, until she and the kids arrived in the middle of the month. "Well, yeah," he says, laughing gently at himself. "She's my psychiatrist."
No self-pity, no complaints about lingering Crash Davis comparisons, nothing except an honest desire to do right by baseball—and that also is the essence of the man. It is an unforgiving game he plays, and yet he has never let it rob him of his dreams. But don't dismiss him as a dreamer and nothing more. Why, there was a day when Russ Morman owned the whole South Side of Chicago.
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]