The first baseman broke the Scrappers' home run record.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
NILES -- In his first season of professional baseball, Rickie Morton was involved in a home-run chase.
But it wasn't something the Mahoning Valley Scrappers first baseman thought much about.
"Ah no," said Morton, when asked in the final days of the 2001 season whether he was seeking the New York-Penn League home-run crown.
"I thought about it once before and then it went down a little bit, because when you try to hit them, you can't," he said. "It's just unbelievably hard."
A Citrus Heights, Calif., resident who was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 25th round out of the University of the Pacific, Morton finished the season with 12 home runs.
His total was one shy of Brooklyn's Frank Corr and Williamsport's Walter Young.
"Bat speed for me," Morton said, on how he generates his power. "That helps me get to the ball.
"You can't teach power," he said, "and you can't teach a lot of things that people have -- like a strong arm."
Morton, who broke the Scrappers' team record of 10 home runs set last season by Ryan Church, caught the eye of Scrappers manager Dave Turgeon.
"Coming out of minicamp, Rick Morton was a big surprise for me," Turgeon said. "He was not a highly-touted draft pick. But all he did was work hard, make adjustments and keep getting better."
Playing in 68 of the Scrappers' 75 games, Morton finished the season with team highs in batting average (.282), slugging percentage (.515), hits (67), RBIs (40) and runs scored (34).
"I've learned a tremendous amount about hitting, a tremendous amount about playing at a different level," Morton said. "I think I've taken as much as I can."
Adjustment: Morton said it took him a couple of weeks to adjust from the aluminum bats used in college baseball to the wooden ones in professional baseball.
"But along with that, it's coming all the way out here from California and being around people you've never seen before, just getting used to everything," Morton said.
"And the pitching's a lot better here," he said. "It's not just one guy who's good; you've got a lot of guys out there that are pretty good."
Turgeon said, "He's a great kid. He's got a good mind, and that's going to help carry him in the game.
"A lot of guys can hit, throw and run, but they don't have that [overall] make-up," Turgeon said. "It's not the end of the world for him if he goes 0-for-4. He's got very good perspective."
Learning period: Following the season, the Indians sent Morton to the three-week instructional league program in Winter Haven, Fla., where he will continue to learn about the game.
"After that, we'll have to see what happens," he said. "Just work hard in the off-season, go back home and just enjoy some things there."
As far the Indians' timetable for him, Morton said he doesn't know.
"But honestly, I don't want to know," he said. "I just want to go out and play hard, and I think if I play hard and help my team as much as I can, that will take care of itself."