PHOENIX – Basha pitcher Johnny Morell was sitting in his childhood home in California, lounging on the sofa with family, when his phone started to jolt.
“I got the notification on Twitter from the draft tracker and the Angels selected me,” said Morell, who moved to Phoenix from California last year. “We were just jumping up and down.”
But rather than reflect on the instant he had been waiting for since he was a young boy, his thoughts immediately turned to his mother, Maritza Morell, who passed away in April.
“We would have been in tears,” Johnny said of how his mother would have reacted to the life-changing news. “[She] probably wouldn’t have said anything besides congratulations. I wish she was here for that to happen.”
Maritza Morell, 48, lost her yearlong battle with cancer just hours after her son pitched in his last Basha game against Chandler. Johnny later said he dedicated the game to his mother.
“I knew during that game that was probably going to be her last day,” Morell said. “So that was really hard on me. I just wanted to play for her.”
But Morell was unable to finish the game, as he was alerted to his mother’s condition in the second inning and quickly departed to be by her side.
Head coach Jim Schilling said the team rallied around Morell following his return to Arizona days later.
“One of the moms did these little green ribbons and we sewed them to the sides of our hats in memory of Johnny’s mom,” Schilling said. “We just tried to show Johnny as much love as we can. There’s nothing really anybody’s gonna say that’s going to mask the pain of losing a parent.”
Making the leap
With his heart heavy following the loss of his mother, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior finished out his Basha career on a high note, leading his team to a 24-6 record and a trip to the Division I AIA Baseball State Championships.
“Winning our league championship was a great experience,” Morell said. “And making playoffs, being first in state and getting to wear that on our sleeve was really cool.”
Before Morell’s senior year had come to a close, he signed a letter of intent to play for Grand Canyon University. But that was before he was drafted in the 31st round by Anaheim last month.
“I was more focused on the pro development side,” Morell said. “I had a great scholarship to go to Grand Canyon and play under Andy Stankiewicz. But I had a couple of people, a big leaguer and Jim Fregosi Jr., who also told me you’ll develop a lot more with an organization like the Angels.”
Playing for the Angels
Morell decided to forgo his scholarship with GCU and he joined the Angels organization on June 17. He is now playing for the Arizona League Angels, a rookie-level professional baseball league run by Minor League Baseball.
“It’s a dream come true,” Morell said. “ I’ve worked for this moment my whole life. Having this day come, it’s nothing but joy to me.”
Schilling had nothing but praise for the former Basha star, who pitched his first game for the Angels just eight days after being drafted.
“Everything he did at Basha was to be drafted to the major leagues,” Schilling said. “He’s worked very hard to do that.”
While Morell continues to pursue his dreams of being a major leaguer, he carries on his mother’s legacy with the Angels, using a tradition he began at his former high school, writing down the letters P-F-M before every game.
He says it stands for ‘play for mom.’
“In my mind, I always say a little prayer,” Morell said. “I know my mom is watching over me and so that’s always helped me.”