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Here is John Thomson’s story profiling Iona Prep grad Colin Moran as he prepares to begin his pro baseball career:
OMAHA, NEB. — Before Colin Moran’s junior year at North Carolina, Bill and Diane Moran extended an offer to their youngest son, one that seemed simple enough. They’d propose and he’d accept because, frankly, who in his right mind wouldn’t?
At the time, Colin Moran drove a 2005 Ford Escape, a compact SUV boasting few bells and whistles. The Morans proposed a switch: They’d take his car; he’d drive the newer version with the better GPS to Chapel Hill and beyond. He declined. The 2010 Iona Prep graduate didn’t have to resist the urge because it was never there.
Now, likely on the verge of signing a multimillion-dollar deal, expect nothing to change. Consider that Moran’s only purchase since the Miami Marlins drafted him sixth overall on June 6 was a pair of sunglasses bought with his parents’ money.
So to know him is to know his intentions for each of those seven figures: nothing.
“People always ask me if I’m going to get a car, but I have a working Ford Escape, so I don’t see a reason to get a new car,” Moran said during an interview last week at the College World Series. “Maybe down the line, maybe if I see one I like, I guess. But I’m perfectly happy with what I’ve got right now.”
“I’d be car shopping by now, but that’s just Colin,” North Carolina teammate Chaz Frank said. “He’s just low key. He’s not worried about clothes or cars. That’s probably why he’s so good.”
The hits and RBI piled up during his three-year All-America career at North Carolina, which ended on June 21 with a loss to UCLA in the College World Series. Outside the batter’s box, only Moran’s words are fewer than his excesses.
When Moran was a freshman, teammates said they needed half a school year for him to open up. Coaches hear he’s funny but are seldom privy to the deadpan one-liners mumbled for players’ ears only.
“He’s always been kind of a drawn-back, quiet type of guy,” said catcher Brian Holberton, Moran’s freshman-year roommate. “Once you get to know him, he’s cool. He opens up. But he’s kind of quiet to the media and the public. That’s just his personality — but he doesn’t play like it.”
Moran’s intentions were always pure. He was born into a family of athletes, one that sent two of his uncles to the major leagues and a brother to Triple-A (for now), and produced a grandfather perhaps better than them all. Dick Surhoff played in the NBA and was later a fast-pitch softball legend; sons B.J. and Rich were big-leaguers, B.J. for 17 years; and Brian Moran pitches for the Seattle Mariners’ Triple-A affiliate in Tacoma, Wash.
The younger Moran never talked much, according to his parents, but he has long pursued the same baseball dream. The game has mostly consumed him, particularly hitting. He and his brother hit so often, the family had its own key to ProSwing, a training center in Mount Kisco, and made off-hour trips there in snowstorms. His father, a plumber, returned home during lunch to throw pregame batting practice at Disbrow Park near their home in Rye when Colin was in high school. He even pitched Wiffle Balls to his sons in the backyard back then, the grass illuminated by floodlights.
“The neighbors weren’t real happy with us when they were doing it at midnight on a school night,” Diane Moran said.
That persistence earned Moran a scholarship to his dream school, North Carolina, the former home of his uncle B.J. Surhoff, the No. 1 pick in the 1985 draft and the last Westchester County product selected higher than Moran. He arrived a wispy 6-foot-3 with narrow hips, narrower shoulders and an aversion to weights.
“When he first got here, he didn’t even know how to pick up a weight because he was kind of embarrassed,” Frank said. “He didn’t even know how to do a lift.”
Moran’s transformation began that first winter with a suggestion from his brother. He pushed Colin to wear contacts while playing, and soon the lefty-swinger could pick up spin on the baseball with ease. He suddenly emerged as North Carolina’s starting third baseman as a true freshman.
“I’ll never forget. We were getting ready to go to California. It was about a week before the season started. I had been throwing to him in the cage, and I said something to (head) Coach (Mike) Fox or (pitching) coach Scott Forbes,” hitting coach Scott Jackson said. “I said, ‘You’re going to think I’m crazy, but Moran has barreled everything. Every pitch I throw up there, he hits on the barrel. We might need to move him into the middle of the order.’ ”
Moran batted eighth in his debut, but he soon earned Baseball America’s Freshman of the Year honors, batting third as the Tar Heels earned a trip to Omaha for the College World Series. They returned there this season as the tournament’s No. 1 seed. Moran had a pair of three-hit games to help stave off elimination before North Carolina lost to UCLA in his last collegiate game.
Moran finished 2013 second in the country with 76 runs scored and first with 91 RBI — a program record and the most by an ACC player since Buster Posey, the reigning National League MVP, had 93 for Florida State in 2008. Like Posey, Moran was a finalist (one of three) for the Golden Spikes Award, which will be given to the best amateur player in the country at on July 19 at 2 p.m.
The Houston Astros actually considered Moran for the No. 1 overall pick, sending owner Jim Crane and general manager Jeff Luhnow to scout him in Chapel Hill against Virginia.
“That’s when I started to realize that he’s not yours, that he belongs to everybody,” Bill Moran said. “And you see it more and more often.”
Yet despite his soaring profile as a player, Moran remained introverted to outsiders, which, with him, includes most everyone outside of family, friends and teammates. Reporters covering the team rarely requested him for interviews that didn’t pertain directly to his accomplishments. Case in point: Moran, a first-team All-American and the ACC Player of the Year, was invited to the podium for the NCAA’s postgame press conference just once in four games, and he didn’t speak at either off-day practice. In fact, after one session recently at Creighton University, he signed autographs for children lining the field. As he scribbled his name and clamped his teeth on a cookie, teammates nearby talked into microphones about trying to stay alive in Omaha.
“Before this whole World Series, I went in right after him with the slow-mo media guys. He had walked out, and they were like, ‘Please, just show some more personality than him,’ ” North Carolina ace Kent Emanuel said. “He doesn’t like all that stuff. He’s very quiet. He likes to stay to himself.”
“My father was a very big man, 6-foot-4, and he had a very, very deep voice, but he was just quiet and went about his business,” Diane Moran said of her father, Dick, who played for the Knicks. “He’s very similar to my dad.”
The two never met. Dick Surhoff passed away in 1987, more than five years before Colin was born.
“It’s amazing how genetics are,” Diane Moran said. “He even walks like him.”
A few hours before the telecast began on MLB Network, Moran called his parents. He told them most of the team planned on coming to their apartment in Cary, N.C., a suburb between Raleigh and Chapel Hill where the Morans rent during the baseball season. With help from Colin’s older sister, Megan, they scrambled to pick up food for their guests. About 35 or 40 people crammed into the family’s makeshift war room.
“They just kept coming,” Diane Moran said. “It was great.”
When Moran’s name was called at No. 6 to the Marlins, the room burst into cheers. Teammates celebrated around him and later pulled close for a picture that still serves as the wallpaper on his father’s cell phone.
“When he got picked, the whole room is screaming, and he’s just kind of sitting there cracking a smile,” said Emanuel, who was picked in the third round by the Astros the next day. “It’s not like he was even jumping for joy. He was very mellow, I guess you could say.”
Lost, of course, in the midst of his flat-line reaction, was that it had been Moran’s texts and e-mails that organized the party in the first place.
“There’s no doubt I was really excited, but I guess I don’t show as many emotions as other people,” he said. “I was still excited. It was a blast having my friends and family there. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
In less intimate settings, Moran still has trouble remaining anonymous. He stands every bit of the 6-3 listed on North Carolina’s roster and could pass for 2 or 3 inches taller on a football field or basketball court. He has gained 40 pounds since high school and now registers at a sturdy 215. Where his shoulders and hips were once narrow, they are now broad, even for a soon-to-be pro. His hair is cropped tight and as red as a hayfield at dusk. Even his jaw has squared and finally looks capable of handling a beard after three years away at college.
Moran notoriously acted his age during his sophomore season when he punched a bathroom wall and broke his hand after committing a costly error in the seventh inning of a loss to North Carolina State. That outburst cost him 21 games and was reminiscent of past moments of frustration at Iona Prep, where he would bury his hand in his helmet and smack the ground after a bad at-bat.
Mike Fox, the Tar Heels’ coach, believes Moran demands too much of himself. “It’s his best trait, and at times it’s been his worst trait,” Fox said.
Moran aspires to play at a resting pulse like Derek Jeter or Robinson Cano, stars of the team he rooted for as a kid.
“Some people just try to slow the game down a little bit. I think I try to do that sometimes,” Moran said. “Not necessarily play slow, but relax, not panic or anything like that.”
“We try to tell him that when you’re this good, it’s going to happen for you,” Fox said. “Don’t let your temper, don’t let your intensity get in the way. But that’s why I think he’s going to be a good pro. It’s such a long season that you have to learn to take it in chunks, and he will.”
Fox would know. In 15 seasons as the Tar Heels’ coach, he has seen 50 of his players drafted, including eight in the first round.
He joked that some, like Mets ace Matt Harvey, the seventh overall pick in 2010, return to campus driving cars that sell for $80,000 or $90,000, but he doesn’t expect Moran to follow in that tradition.
“His parents have certainly raised him right,” Fox said. “They are a hard-working family. I don’t think that’s a big deal to them, the material things.”
As he sat down last week at the Holiday Inn across the street from TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Moran suggested that he might buy something for his parents, like a new truck for his dad’s business.
They were with him on draft night and staying at the same hotel, but the star of few words hadn’t told them that, either.
“I don’t need a new truck,” Bill Moran said sheepishly, unable to hide his grin. “No, no.”