Luke Graham: Morse throws first strike at no-hitter

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Luke Graham

Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Luke here.

— Maybe in the grand scheme of things, it was fitting that Mike Morse threw out the first pitch at last Monday's Red Sox-Royals game.

Morse, who won the national moguls and dual moguls titles at the 2008 Sprint U.S. Freestyle Championships in March, isn't new to overcoming adversity.

Morse missed the Olympic team in 2006 by one spot, then suffered what many thought was a career-ending back injury.

But Morse - a self-proclaimed "old man" of freestyle skiing at age 27- fought back, and went from underdog and afterthought at the 2008 Freestyle Championships to double national champion.

So when he got the call to throw out the first pitch, Morse - originally from Duxbury, Mass., and a lifelong Red Sox fan - jumped at the chance.

"I was just kind of kidding around," said Morse, whose uncle works for the Red Sox. "Then I got a call to throw out the first pitch."

So after Morse threw the first strike of the night, another athlete who knows a thing or two about overcoming adversity took over.

Cancer survivor and 24-year-old Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester threw the season's first no-hitter.

"It was crazy," Morse said. "For me, it was just a thrill to watch him throw a no-hitter. It was a bonus to the evening."

Lester missed the end of the 2006 season after he was diagnosed with a form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Certainly, Morse's injuries weren't as serious as cancer, but sometimes sports work in funny ways.

Both are elite athletes at the top of their sports. Both had to have had feelings of giving up competing. But maybe most importantly, both came back, overcame odds and now stand near the top of their respective sports.

A no-hitter was the last thing Morse expected to see. On average, there's about two in Major League Baseball a year. He admits he was nervous before throwing out the first pitch - "I told my family and friends, and they expressed extreme concern for me," Morse said - but as soon as the day came, those nerves turned into excitement.

After a little pre-game catch with his brother, Morse was ready to toe the rubber.

Morse, who has been training in Steamboat for the past five years, hit the field about 6:15 p.m., watched batting practice, then waited for the grounds crew to take care of the infield and the National Anthem to finish before making his way to the mound.

The announcer introduced him, and they showed his winning runs from nationals on the big screen.

Then he threw a "strike at about 30 mph."

Or a little bit slower than he tears down the mountain.

Currently, Morse is focused on training and making the 2010 Olympic team. He's in town this week training with the U.S. Freestyle team.

Still, the experience of throwing out the first pitch on a night like Monday will stay with Morse for a long time.

He admits he would love the chance to walk to the mound at Fenway again.

But maybe next time, say the summer of 2011, the Fenway faithful might be cheering on an Olympian.

No-hitters, however, are not guaranteed.

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