Nyjer Morgan aka T-Plush aka Tony Tombstone emerged from a line of Sharks players, skated to center ice, gathered a puck, skated a few feet and fired a wrist shot through goaltender Thomas Greiss’ five-hole.
“Greiss was giving me the stick side,” he told the media in the locker room after the practice, “but for some reason I saw the five-hole so I had to go with the five-hole instead of the stick side. He seemed pretty strong on the stick side.”
Morgan went all in for the Sharks practice. “Say it one time, yeah!” he begged of someone to speak aloud his self-created alter ego — stepped out for the first time 36 minutes into the hourlong session, wearing the team’s alternate sweater with his pseudonym ‘Plush’ stitched cross his back. “We love him for it,” said Sharks captain Joe Thornton, in reference to Morgan’s support of his team. “He wears the Shark and is proud to be a Sharks fan, so we’re kind of a Brewers fan now, I guess.”
“How many athletes do you know who can just jump on the ice and do what I just did? Exactly,” Morgan said. “Pretty cool, huh?
“It’s been many moons, it’s been a lot of years, yeah. And I’ve still got it, you see that?”
Morgan began supporting the team in 1991, their inaugural season. His favorite player was Owen Nolan. “That’s basically Mr. San Jose Shark,” he says of Nolan, who spent eight years in San Jose and last played for the Minnesota Wild in 2009-10. Morgan grew up playing baseball and hockey and decided to move up to Canada at age 16 to play major junior hockey for the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League.
“I moved up there,” he said, “played at the highest level you can get to…but eventually baseball was my calling.” After playing seven games with the Pats in 2000, Morgan committed fully to baseball and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 33rd round of the 2002 MLB Draft.
“My dream has always been to be a professional athlete and I accomplished one of them,” he says, “but to be out there to skate with my childhood team and just be out there with the boys is just an unbelievable feeling.”
Asked which sport he liked better, Morgan answered immediately. “It was hockey all the way. More action.”
“[There are] not too many similarities,” said Morgan when asked to compare baseball and hockey. “Just being around the guys and just being around a hard-working corps like the San Jose Sharks is just a dream come true.”
While a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates Morgan visited a Penguins practice in 2007, but noted, “I couldn’t really show them my skills like I did here. I was on the enemy’s territory. I bleed teal.”
Morgan described his hockey style as that of a third-liner capable of bringing some excitement to a game.
Sharks head coach Todd McLellan — who was coaching in Swift Current when Morgan played for Regina — remembers the Brewers outfielder well. “His ball characteristics, and the way he stirs things up on the ballfield, that’s the exact same way he was on the ice surface,” McLellan explained. “He was a bit of a disturber, got under the skin of some of the other players, and competed hard.”
Joe Thornton seemed pretty impressed by Morgan and more than amused by “Plush” as well.
“Not bad. It was better than I thought,” Thornton said. “It seems like he enjoyed coming here and we loved having him. … It loosens everybody up. He’s got a good personality and he relates to the guys.”
“It was a blast—especially Jumbo Joe. That’s my guy,” commented Plush.