Marx: Strall an Unexpected Product of '96 Title
Pulitzer Prize winner Jeffrey Marx is writing a book – “Walking with Tigers” – about LSU sports. You can follow him on Twitter: @LSUTigersBook.
LSU baseball fans liked what they saw from newcomer Collin Strall in his initial weekend as a pitcher for the Tigers. With LSU playing Kansas in the opening series of the 2015 season, Strall threw for two innings in relief – one Friday and one Sunday – striking out four batters without allowing a hit or a walk.
His early-season appearances caused a stir in Alex Box Stadium because Strall – a sophomore right-hander who transferred from Tallahassee Community College – is the first sidearm pitcher LSU has had in the nine-year coaching tenure of Paul Mainieri.
But there is another unique aspect to Strall’s baseball life – this one not publicly known when he took to the mound last weekend – that will give LSU fans something else to talk about.
Starting as a 10-year-old and for several years thereafter, Strall learned how to pitch from someone who holds a special place in the annals of LSU baseball: Robbie Morrison, the former University of Miami pitcher who gave up the famous Warren Morris home run that won the 1996 College World Series for the Tigers.
Strall, a 19-year-old native of Suwanee, Georgia, was only 13 months old when LSU played Miami for the national championship on June 8, 1996. He certainly knew nothing about the drama that unfolded at old Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning and LSU trailing Miami 8-7, Morris unloaded the best-known blast in school history: a two-run, walk-off homer to win the national title.
“I can’t really remember when I first heard about that,” Strall says now. “But I didn’t know about it when I started working with Robbie. I just knew he was a great guy, a great coach. He definitely knew a lot about baseball.”
Morrison was only a freshman when he threw that never-to-be-forgotten pitch – a breaking ball Morris hit over the right-field wall – but he was already an All-American relief pitcher. Two years later, the Kansas City Royals selected him in the second round of the 1998 Major League Baseball draft. He played seven years of minor-league ball, peaking at the AA level, before retiring from baseball in 2004.
A year or so later, little Collin Strall showed up for baseball lessons at an indoor practice facility Morrison was operating, called Hitters Park, in his adopted hometown of Cumming, Georgia.
“From what I remember, I think he was a better hitter than pitcher at the time, but he wanted to pitch because he had a good arm,” Morrison says. “Collin was one of those kids who wanted to try everything. He was always eager to try new things.”
Back then, Strall threw over the top. His switch to being a sidearm pitcher came when he was a senior in high school. But he says that the basic mechanics he learned from Morrison – things such as proper balance and timing and body positioning – still serve him well.
“Robbie has had a big impact on my baseball career,” Strall says. “I’ll always owe him for that.”
As much as Strall has enjoyed learning about Morrison’s place in LSU baseball history – as much as he’s enjoyed joking with his old coach about his famous moment – he also hopes to give LSU fans another way to think of Morrison. Strall hopes they’ll one day want to thank Morrison for helping to prepare one of their own for a college career that makes them proud.
“That would be awesome,” Strall says.
Meanwhile, he, his mom, and Morrison are all still laughing about something that happened right before the start of the season opener at Alex Box. Old footage of the Warren Morris home run was included in the LSU team introduction video shown on the giant scoreboard.
Strall’s mom, Paige Grove, could not resist having a little fun with Morrison. Her youngest son, 7-year-old Cooper, now takes lessons from him, so she still has his cell number in her phone.
She sent a text to Morrison: “You are famous here in Baton Rouge. They keep showing you and your pitch at national championship on the big screen.”
Morrison is now 38, the father of three children, soon to be married for the second time. Time and distance allow him to laugh about something that once brought him the greatest pain he had ever experienced.
That’s what he did when he saw that text from Baton Rouge. He laughed.
Then he texted back to Grove: “It’s been almost 20 yrs (sic) and still talking about it.”