MUNSTER | If former major league all-star second baseman Mickey Morandini ever makes it back to the "bigs," the second journey is already longer than the first.
"I was kind of lucky," the Chesterton resident said of when the Philadelphia Phillies called him up from Triple-A after just two seasons in the minors. "They needed some help in the middle infield, so the path I took to the majors was shorter than most.
"I'd like to get back, at best to manage a team. I've coached and managed kids (with the Chesterton Slammers youth baseball program he founded), then high schoolers (Valparaiso) and now professionals."
This spring will be Morandini's third season managing Single-A baseball within the Phillies organization, and his second with the Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws after a season with the Williamsport (Pa.) Crosscutters.
He is still involved with the Slammers.
"But now that I'm back in pro baseball, I've allowed some of our more knowledgeable parents to manage and coach the teams," Morandini said. "I still look over things during the offseason."
On Feb. 1, Morandini appeared at St. Paul Lutheran School in Munster as part of St. Paul's participation in Lutheran Schools Week.
"We had a different theme each day of the week," St. Paul principal Barb Mertens said during the final themed day: Sports Day on Friday.
"As you can see, most of the students and faculty are dressed in their favorite sport team jerseys and sweaters," said Mertens, who was decked out in Nebraska Cornhuskers' red. "We just decided for Sports Day to bring in a professional athlete to speak with the kids."
Morandini spoke to a gym full of students ranging from preschool to eighth grade, emphasizing for them to stay physically active and to get involved in extra-curricular activities.
"You never know what you're good at unless you try," said Morandini, who also starred in basketball in high school. "I was in my school's drama club, even though I found out I couldn't act. I was in my school's choir, even though I couldn't sing. But at least I gave them a try."
Morandini also stressed clean lifestyles, though he earlier acknowledged that some of his former teammates didn't always walk the straight and narrow.
"I never put anything in my body that didn't belong, and I don't drink and smoke," Morandini said. "You could imagine my surprise when I first came to the majors and I saw that players — even the stars on the team — were smoking cigarettes in the clubhouse. I always thought pro athletes didn't do that stuff."
After an All-American career at Indiana University, the Leechburgh (Pa.) native was selected for the USA Baseball Team which won the gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. Morandini allowed the students to pass around and handle his medal. He was drafted by the Phillies after turning down a previous draft selection from his boyhood favorite team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, in favor of returning to IU for his senior year.
With the Phillies, Morandini played in the World Series (1993) and was an all-star in 1995. Arguably, his best season was with the Cubs in 1998 when he hit a career-high .296 while helping the Northsiders advance to the postseason.
"Sammy Sosa and I combined for 74 home runs that year," Morandini told the audience before mentioning that he only had eight of them — another career high.
While taking questions from the students, Morandini was candid about growing up without a father, who died when he was 4 years old, about how some negative comments from a former coach spurred him to work extra hard to prove them wrong, and what was the easiest team he played against.
"When I was with the Phillies, it was the Cubs," Morandini said, "and when I was with the Cubs, it was the White Sox ... just kidding."