Standing in the visitors' dugout at Safeco Field in 2005, Aurora resident Morgan Pearson met his idol.
Aware of Morgan's celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that leads to intestinal damage, Major League Baseball legend Derek Jeter sat down with the then 9-year-old, offered up his bat and expressed to Morgan the vital importance of maintaining his strict diet.
Morgan, whose diet featuring no gluten or dairy and ingesting 40-to-50 pills per day, took Jeter's words of motivation to heart.
12 years after Jeter's ballpark visit, Morgan earned a seat in another MLB ballpark.
After spending the last two seasons working for the Oregon State Beavers baseball team, Morgan nabbed an internship with the Texas Rangers and currently helps the multi-hundred million dollar organization make personnel decisions, among other tasks.
"That visit with Derek truly changed my life," Morgan said.
At 5 years old, Morgan didn't possess the strength to hold a pencil, exuded behavioral issues and showed minor signs of autism. In fact, one of his teachers told his mom Barbara he would never go to college.
As he found out, he had a baseball sized hole in his intestine and his immune system was weak and damaged.
"It was really difficult and frightening. It got to the point where he would have no arm strength. It seemed to come on rather quickly," Barbara said.
In order to save his intestine and give him a chance at a normal life, his doctor put him on a strict dietary regimen featuring mostly meat, rice, vegetables and gluten free bread.
"He was in tears because food tasted like crap. He hated his diet, his pills. But he did it anyway," Barbara said.
For Morgan, meeting Jeter lifted his spirits and gave him more motivation to stay disciplined to his diet.
But it wasn't just the Jeter meeting that spawned Morgan's turnaround. The Pearson family possessed the means to provide him with quality treatment and extensive behavioral therapy, they relied on a once controversial but now revered doctor and Pearson's general determination also played pivotal roles.
"When I look at Morgan's life it's crazy how the right people and all these intricacies worked out," Barbara said.
Despite the behavioral problems, Pearson wasn't mentally deficient. He was just an intense, passionate kid with a serious disease.
Barbara recalls a conversation with Morgan's doctor in which Morgan was telling him about how he would habitually get into arguments with schoolmates on the playground.
But the doctor didn't scold him. He told him his passion was a gift – not a curse.
"If you have a tiger for a pet, you understand what the tiger needs, but when you take it for a walk people are going to freak out. You might want to only take tiger out at a tiger convention, where people understand tigers," Barbara said.
Though he wasn't one of the better players on his early youth teams, the baseball field was the place where Morgan could unleash his Tiger.
"It (baseball) gave him a place that took his intensity and drive and energy level," Barbara said.
Morgan chose the catcher position in order to be as close as possible to the action. And though he admits he wasn't any good in grade school, his strength steadily increased and he incrementally improved. Making a club baseball team in fourth grade also helped his development.
And years later, working at Athletes in Motion training center in Beaverton, Morgan jumped at the opportunity to catch pitches from future and current professionals, such as Alex Hinshaw and Blake Snell, who could light up the radar gun with 90-plus miles per hour fastballs. So by the time the spring season rolled around, catching high school pitching was easy.
And once barely able to make a club baseball team, Pearson became quite good by the end of middle school and then played four years of high school baseball for Central Catholic and Lake Oswego.
But his interest in baseball wasn't solely about playing the sport.
In 2009, Morgan managed to nab a press pass to spring training and wound up interviewing multiple-time all-star Josh Hamilton. He also worked in PGE Park as an assistant clubhouse manager for the Portland Beavers in 2009 and 2010. There, he crossed paths with eventual MLB mainstays in Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jared Weaver.
After high school, Morgan nearly had a chance to walk onto the Oregon State baseball team but the spot closed up and he decided against a chance to play for Linfield College. Instead, he decided to work in the Oregon State baseball operations department.
In his first year, he helped out with recruiting and front office work. In his second year he was promoted to the position of head coach's assistant. He oversees statistical programs, analyzes scouting reports, provides recruiting information and puts student managers to task. He has also helped to install a new video program.
"Being coach Casey's assistant has truly been amazing," Pearson said.
This season, he watched as the Beavers put together a ridiculous 56-6 record, win 23 consecutive games at one point during the regular season and lose to LSU in the College World Series.
"You know what you're doing is valuable and seeing hard work go into wins, it feels great, Morgan said. "It was fun showing up to the ballpark everyday and expecting to win. It was a special season."
Two summers ago, he worked as a pitch f/x software coordinator for the San Francisco Giants' Single A affiliate Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. And last summer, he was a minor league video coordinator for the Rangers' Spokane affiliate. He has also served as a Northwest scout for the Boston Red Sox.
Not to mention, his academic path is extremely relevant to his baseball career path. He is on his way toward a bachelor of science in mathematics and a minor in statistics and assists Oregon State biostatistics professor Sarah Emerson.
With such a breathe of experience under his belt at such a young age (21 years old), the Texas Rangers organization signed him on as an intern.
Morgan now works on projects such as optimizing the team's injury prevention and recovery program, evaluating talent and planning potential roster moves for the future.
While hundreds of studious baseball fanatics across the United States would love to work in the big leagues, Morgan actually went out and did it. The passion and relentlessness once derided in the classroom became his greatest strength.
"I've just been willing to do whatever it took. I'm been willing to travel with the team, eat miserable food, stay in bad hotels. I took on a challenging major and I'm excelling there. My work ethic and passion, that's the biggest thing for me." he said.
And he feels comfortable in the Rangers' facilities and unfazed when running into star-studded athletes – such as all-star pitcher Yu Darvish.
"Being able to be in a Triple A team for two seasons, it gave me a lot of practice being around professionals baseball," Pearson said. "When I'm sitting here in the training room and Yu Darvish comes in and starts talking to me, I'm not star struck," Morgan said.
Morgan's disease has mostly subsided; and though he still refrains from consuming gluten three days a week, his diet isn't nearly as strict as it once was.
Having conquered all of the obstacles in his path so far, he doesn't put limits on what he can accomplish in the future.
"I feel like baseball is what I want to do. I want to continue working in baseball. I have a passion for it. My goal is to be the youngest general manager in baseball history," he said.
Once a scared mom unsure of her son's future, Barbara beams with pride when reflecting on what Morgan has already accomplished.
"I'm so grateful that what he's been able to do and I have so much respect for him for the challenges he's faced and what he's overcome. I know he's going to make a difference in the world," Barbara said.