STOCKTON -- Three games into the 2008 season, Ripon's Jed Morris waits not so patiently for his first hit.
He has struck out twice in six attempts.
He has grounded into a double play and committed an error.
No big deal.
OK, it is a big deal to Jed Morris, 28, the catcher for the Stockton Ports. He wants to feel he's not unlike his peers at the Class-A level -- hungry and driven professional ballplayers climbing toward their major-league dream.
And that's exactly the point. Baseball always has moved the needle for this former member of the Modesto Athletics, which is as it should be in his world.
At least for someone who's fought off leukemia.
"I wish I could say it's easier mentally, but it's the same mental grind," Morris said before Saturday night's 4-2 victory over the Modesto Nuts, his first off-day. "I am more grateful at the end of the day, but I felt I was always grateful before."
Underline "before." His young life revolves around the word. BEFORE Aug. 15, 2006, Morris felt he was tracking toward The Show at Double-A Midland. BEFORE that day, he was Jed Morris, minor-leaguer, nothing more, and that was fine by him.
Until the fatigue, dark bruises and nonstop nosebleeds eventually forced him into a doctor's office during a road trip in Springfield, Mo. One blood test later, he heard the sobering news: He had contracted acute lymphocytic leukemia.
And baseball was set aside for a bigger -- far bigger -- fight.
Morris doesn't mind talking about it, especially now that he's achieved the upper hand.
"I would rather have an inspirational story than nothing," he said. "I'm in a good position now about it."
He says the cancer is in remission, and that he receives a monthly blood test. The constant vigilance is a fact of life, his new normal. He also acknowledges more sobering facts: A complete cure for this cancer is rare, according to webmd.com.
But Morris' age and fitness work in his favor. So does his attitude.
"I think the hardest thing was hearing other people's reaction and how seriously they took it," he said. "It was a serious deal, but that's just the way I am. It was like, 'Let's just fix this and move on.' "
Sometimes he talks as though he merely kicked a cold. Perhaps that's his release valve. Or perhaps he's just determined to file it away in some time capsule.
I'd want to forget about it, too.
Morris underwent six rounds of chemotherapy between August and December of 2006. The first put him in the hospital for 19 days and prompted a 15-pound weight loss. When he looked in the mirror, he saw a man with no hair on his head and toothpick legs. But the cancer started to subside almost immediately.
Morris knows he's luckier than most with cancer. Another thing: He truly was touched by the outreach by everyone from Midland, to Modesto, to Nebraska, to the Oakland A's organization. Midland still fund-raises for local cancer victims, a program begun during Morris' ordeal.
After cancer, Morris' adversity last year seems almost trivial. The A's sent him to Rookie League ball in Arizona -- his launch point for a future assignment -- until he broke the hamate bone in his right hand while swinging the bat. His season lasted five trips to the plate.
Which is why Father Time also has become an enemy. He needs to progress. Quickly. But as you might guess, he's encouraged by a small army of friends, many in his own clubhouse.
"He's been through a lot, no doubt about it, and he's battled his way back," Ports manager Darren Bush said. "He wants to be another player on the field doing his business."
Too late for that.
Even before his affliction, Morris already was admired in Modesto. He played two years for the A's (2003 and '04) and claimed a bit of local history in 2004 by catching the last out, a strikeout from pitcher Jeff Coleman, as Modesto defeated Lancaster for its first California League championship in 20 years.
Nuts manager Jerry Weinstein also remembers Morris. Weinstein, an assistant coach at Cal Poly in 2002, recalled a guy who stroked four home runs during a three-game series at Nebraska. That power surge probably was one reason why Morris is a pro today.
"He'd already hit three, and we're thinking, 'No way he's going to hit four,' " Weinstein said. "We relied on the law of averages.' "
Morris defies the law of averages.
Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2302.