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January 10, 2013

Morris surges into Athletic Director race

Long-time baseball coach Jim Morris has watched the last couple of athletic directors at UM leave almost as quickly as they came.

Kirby Hocutt lasted a couple of years, and then his replacement Shawn Eichorst left in October after barely a year on the job.

So a natural thought came to the coach: Why not take his knowledge to an administrative position?

Yes, Morris has thrown his hat into the ring as Miami continues to search for a new athletic director. It's not expected the position will be filled until after the Canes learn of potential sanctions stemming from Nevin Shapiro's allegations.

Morris' understanding is that he is on the short list of candidates at this point.

"I've talked to them, they've talked to me - it's something I would consider if Dr. Shalala says she wants me to do it," Morris says.

Morris said it would be hard giving up being a baseball coach, but that if he is AD "It's just something that could help the entire athletic program, would be something that's a challenge.

"But I'm a baseball coach first right now."

He added that Shalala and he "talked about it, and it's something where I don't know for sure whether she wants me to do it or for sure whether I want to do it."

* Morris also gave his early take on the team, which loses top returning hitter Peter O'Brien (.340, 10 home runs) and Rony Rodriguez (.280, 3 HR) along with starting pitchers Eric Erickson (2.88 ERA, 8-6) and Steven Ewing (3.84, 6-3) along with reliever E.J. Encinosa (2.79, 8 saves).

"We'll be a better defensive club (last year the team had a .958 fielding percentage), particularly on the infield," Morris said. "We'll be a pretty good offensive club with the guys we have returning and new guys we have."

Among the standout new faces: Alexander Hernandez, Brandon Lopez, Chris Barr, Grant Heyman and David Thompson.

"If we had an MVP from this fall it would be Hernandez, no question," Morris said. "Hernandez in the 60-yard dash runs 7.3-7.5, steals bases.

"Lopez has done really well. Chris Barr is our best defensive first baseman, is a line drive hitter. Heyman is a guy that's 6-foot-5 who has great potential to be a really good player ... David Thompson is a hitter, that's the No. 1 thing he does. He can swing the bat."

Hernandez and Lopez both play shortstop, but one could move to second or third base for the season.

Morris says he tentatively has Hernandez batting second with Chantz Mack (.289, 1 HR) third and 3B Brad Fieger (.295, 4 HR) fourth.

"I make out the lineup based on how they play," Morris said. "You play well, you stay in the lineup."

Michael Broad (.243, 4 HR) and Dale Carey (.271, 2 HR) are pushing to join Mack as starting outfielders.

At catcher Garrett Kennedy returns and Morris said he'll start even though he struggled at the plate last year (.165 in 85 at-bats). IF/OF Tyler Palmer (.250, 4 HR) and 1B Esteban Tresgallo (.243, 3 HR) are also battling to start.

"There are some battles going on, which is what you want," Morris said.

At pitcher starter Eric Whaley (2.68, 4-4) returns, and Bryan Radziewski (3.08, 2-0) is getting healthy off surgery and is expected to start. He threw his first bullpen session on Monday.

A third starter could be Andrew Suarez, who was highly recruited and is coming off surgery.

"Suarez is the highest drafted player on our team," Morris said. "He had arm surgery last year. His last outing he started against the Marlins and shut them out for three innings, pitched outstanding, and the next day he needed arm surgery. He and B-Rad are an important part (of the rotation). Those two along with Whaley, [Javi] Salas (3.21, 6-3) and [A.J.] Salcines (1.40, 7 saves) - those guys are proving they can pitch at this level."

* Feb. 7 is the annual First Pitch Baseball Banquet. The panel will include a question-and-answer session with Cleveland Indians' All-Star closer Chris Perez, St. Louis Cardinals' centerfielder Jon Jay and San Diego Padres' slugger Yonder Alonso. In addition to the speakers panel, there will be an auction featuring memorabilia and other Hurricanes merchandise, a presentation by head Morris and a multi-course dinner. The reception for the event, to be held at the Multipurpose Room inside the Fieldhouse adjacent to the BankUnited Center, begins at 6 p.m. Dinner and program will commence at 7 p.m.

Tickets to the First Pitch Banquet are $75. Tables of eight can be purchased for $600, while "Premier Tables" can be purchased for $800. RSVP's can be made by calling the Hurricane Club at (305) 284-6699. Dress code for the event is business formal.

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