Holladay native: Morgan comes home to guide Eagle baseball
Head coach Eric Morgan hits fly balls to his outfielders during practice. Morgan began his first season in charge of his alma mater in March. (Travis Barton/City Journals)
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Eric Morgan was the head baseball coach at Park City in July when he found out the same position was available at his high school alma mater — Skyline High School.
“Right when it opened up I was (like), ‘that’s mine,’” said the 2005 graduate. Morgan took the reins of the baseball program at Skyline as head coach this season.
For Morgan, who grew up in Holladay with Wasatch Jr. High basically his “backyard,” it’s been a sweet homecoming.
“Yeah, I feel like just growing up here my whole life, I had brothers here, sisters, cousins and just kind of that whole pride thing of being an Eagle and wanting success for the program,” Morgan said of the significance of coaching his hometown team.
It will be his third stint at Skyline — first as a player and then as an assistant coach in 2015 — after having served as head coach at Park City and a volunteer assistant at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas where he played in college.
But his desire for coaching came long before that.
“It’s just one thing that I’ve always known,” Morgan said. “I always knew that was kind of my calling in life. I wasn’t really good at anything else to be honest — math, science — I knew baseball and always knew I wanted to be a coach.”
The manager blood runs in his family with Morgan’s dad coaching him from the time he could remember to his sophomore year in high school.
While Morgan’s had plenty of important coaches in his life, the biggest influence may have been his college coach, Bob Penders, for whom Morgan played and coached with.
“He helped me a ton; he knew the game and it was awesome spending that time with him just learning and eating it all up,” Morgan said.
Coming into a team with players he already knows, Morgan said it’s been a smooth transition. Possibly made more so by his coaching style to gain friendship and trust first.
“If I have that personal relationship, they’ll listen and again if they trust me and they know that they’re in my best interests I can get on them a little bit,” he said. “If they don’t have that trust and I scream and yell at them all the time — it’ll go in one ear and out the other.”
With Morgan’s age and experience, he may be the perfect person for this group.
“He’s a little bit younger,” Kaelin said of his new coach. “And he played in college and stuff so he has some of the similar experiences so he can kind of relate to us, which is good cause he knows what we’re going through and the things he liked or disliked about baseball as a player as well.”
Morgan’s debut season has started strong with opening weekend victories in the Tiger Classic defeating Orem 16-8 and Wasatch 7-2.
With a team returning six starters and plenty of senior leadership, the crucial cog will be pitching after losing its ace to graduation last year.
“That’s the key. I think we’re going to score runs, it all comes down to throwing strikes,” Morgan said.
He described the current rotation as being “filled with throwers,” who will need work and experience to turn into pitchers.
“Only a few of them have a lot of experience on the mound so it’s working with the pitching coach, throwing bullpens, getting comfortable with their pitches. That’s huge just being comfortable holding that ball — if it’s a fastball, change-up, curveball — they just have to be comfortable.”
The most important component of the seasoned team may be the team’s leadership.
With one of Morgan’s main goals being to build a family atmosphere, he decided to not have any assigned captains, instead wanting “34 leaders on the field every single day instead of three to four captains.”
Kaelin said it’s a perfect way to achieve team unity.
“Anyone and everyone should be a leader and should lead the team and be an example,” said the senior shortstop.
Having team-wide leadership style is something Morgan has studied and considered. He has nothing against captains, but prefers this method.
“In my mind being a captain is a title maybe in some minds being bigger and better than some teammates. We are all equal, fighting for the same goal,” Morgan wrote in an email.
Kaelin added everyone brings different skillsets to the table with some players being more vocal while others lead by example. It is a vibe that has Morgan excited about the season.
“With the senior group that we have and the role players, I feel we can do something great here,” Morgan said of his high expectations for the team. “They’re buying into what the coaches are teaching, which is awesome. I feel like if we can get better every day, we got a good shot at doing great things in state.”
And though it’s his first year, that attitude is already filtering to his players.
“We’re focused on winning the day-to-day stuff. If we practice better than we did yesterday then it’s a win, and if we accomplish those things then winning championships or playoff games or taking region and stuff like that will fall into place,” Kaelin said.
The Eagles began region play at home to neighboring Olympus High School on March 28.