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A devastating injury nearly cost Christopher Morel his career — instead, it defined him

1 month agoAndy Martinez

Christopher Morel dashed to his locker in the Cubs complex in the Dominican Republic and went straight for his glove. He couldn’t believe the words he had just heard from the doctor regarding his life-changing injury. 

Morel had been in an accident where shattered glass had lacerated his left arm and wrist and his left eye. The feeling in his left arm was slim and there was worry that he would lose his vision. 

“My doctor told me there was no cure and I couldn’t play baseball again,” the 22-year-old rookie said.

So, he slipped on his glove onto his left hand, grabbed a baseball with his right and tossed it up in the air.

The ball came back down and hit him flat in the face.

Morel was devastated and humiliated. He ran to the bathroom and began to cry.

The moment could have broken him. 

Instead, it defined him.

A brush with fate

Morel was born and raised in Santiago in the northern part of the Dominican Republic. Like many in the baseball-crazed nation, he aspired to be a major leaguer. And there was precedent. Santiago was the home to many former big leaguers, including Carlos Gómez and José Reyes.

In August of 2015, Morel’s first major step toward that goal was realized when he signed with the Cubs as an amateur free agent. At the tender age of 16, Morel moved three hours south to the capital of Santo Domingo to begin his journey through the Cubs’ minor-league ranks.

It was the first time he was away from his parents, Rosa Alexandra and Rafael, and it was difficult. Rafael worried about his son, and it wasn’t easy being so far away from each other. But chasing a big league dream made the pain a little easier to bear.

A few months later, in December, Morel was heading back home to Santiago to see his family. He was on the bus making the 3-hour drive from Santo Domingo when it made a stop near a cafeteria in Santo Domingo.

The drive is long, so Morel hopped out of the bus to grab a bite to eat to maintain him through the ride.

“When I bought my food, my sustenance to go to Santiago, the bus had started to take off,” Morel said.

So, he bolted out of the cafeteria and ran toward the bus. Only, the glass door for the cafeteria was jammed. So, he tried to push it open with the left side of his 130-pound frame.

The door shattered, and glass came raining down on him. The shattered glass sliced through nerves and tendons in his left arm and just above his left eye.

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Morel was in a daze. He remembers beginning to lose consciousness, but after that his memory is foggy.

“I asked for water. I was thirsty,” Morel remembers.

Luckily for him, his father had frequented the cafeteria when he was in Santo Domingo, and the workers there knew his parents. So, they called an ambulance immediately and Morel was rushed to a hospital.

The doctors operated on him the rest of the afternoon to cover the lacerations. At night, he begged to be allowed to go home because of his disdain for hospitals. The doctors obliged.

“I’ve never liked hospitals,” he says. “I didn’t feel comfortable.”

Baseball was far from his mind in the moment.

“I thought my career was over,” Morel said. “I felt really sad.”

A long recovery

After the injury, Morel’s thoughts went from disbelief to “what comes next?”

He went to his doctor, an independent physician not affiliated with the Cubs, with the most important question of his life: will he play baseball again?

The doctor’s words were a complete shock to his core.

Inside the bathroom at the Cubs complex in Santo Domingo, with tears running down his face, one of the Cubs’ trainers, José Álvarez, ran to the bathroom where Morel wept and put his arms around him. Then, he told him words that would stick with Morel the rest of his life.

Todo lo puedes en Cristo, que me fortaleza — I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

He keeps that phrase close to him; he says it every time he feels low or in a tough moment.

“I’ve never forgotten it,” Morel said. “I have it — Christ — in my heart.”

He needed those words in the toughest moments — like in 2017, when the Cubs sent Morel to their complex in Arizona to continue his rehab. The process was arduous — both physically and mentally. He would talk to his parents and lie. Everything was going well, he would tell them.

Only it wasn’t.

He was a teenager, alone in a foreign country and ate the same thing every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner: a hamburger from In-N-Out.

“That was the only thing I understood and knew I could eat,” he said.

Morel turned to his faith to guide him. During good days of rehab, he thanked God. During the bad ones — and there were plenty — he prayed for strength to get through them.

That’s what steered him through the six-month rehabilitation before he took his first swing. The process began shortly after the injury in late 2015 and into the summer of 2016. A year later in 2017, Morel began to finally play in preseason games before the Dominican Summer League kicked off. He felt good and was excited about the idea about stepping foot on the diamond in a competitive situation.

“My arm was reacting — not at 100% — but it was producing good results,” Morel said.

He played in the Dominican Summer League and posted a .691 OPS in 61 games. It wasn’t ideal but given where he was less than a year prior, it may as well have been an MVP season in the majors.

Dream comes true

Morel worked his way through the minor league system. The Cubs thought highly enough of him in 2020 to assign him to their alternate site during the pandemic-shortened season so he could continue to get reps.

After the 2020 season, the Cubs added him to their 40-man roster, meaning he was one step closer to his dream. He spent the bulk of the 2021 season at Double-A Tennessee, where he hit 17 home runs and posted a .732 OPS. He had a brief stint at Triple-A Iowa at the end of the season and hit .257 in 9 games.

The Cubs assigned him back to Tennessee pretty early on in Spring Training 2022, so he figured his call to the majors was still a fair bit away. He was having a successful year in Tennessee, hitting 7 home runs and posting a remarkable .945 OPS in 28 games. He figured a call up was imminent — but to Iowa.

And he was right. Only, his promotion was far better than what he hoped.

Last Monday, with Jason Heyward heading to the injured list, the Cubs needed someone that could offer depth at center field and in the infield. Morel fit the bill and he was already on the 40-man roster, so the Cubs called him. His winding path had reached its destination.

“I didn’t believe it,” Morel said with a smile from ear-to-ear. “But it’s a blessing. I will always thank, firstly, God, and my family and my Chicago Cubs family.”

That was just the beginning of the fairytale. In his first big-league at-bat Tuesday at historic Wrigley Field and with a full count, Morel deposited a no-doubt home run into the left field bleachers. He displayed raw emotion in the moment, like a little kid. He was so excited he forgot to touch first base and had to go back and tap the bag with his foot.

The excitement was palpable inside the historic ballpark. It was a 7-0 game, but the Cubs celebrated it with the gusto of a walk-off home run. Willson Contreras jumped over the dugout fence and onto the field to celebrate. As Morel relished the moment in the dugout, Contreras pushed him onto the field for a curtain call.

 

“It is really special, especially knowing where he’s coming from, what he had to go through to get back on the field is just amazing,” Contreras said after the game. “I just told him, God is good. You’re blessed to be still playing baseball.

“What happened to him wasn’t easy, but he never gave up. Knowing him, it makes me proud.”

Who wouldn’t be?

Morel wasn’t supposed to do that. Heck, he was lucky just to be able to see out of his left eye and move his left arm. The scars and pain remain — he can’t fully move his left fingers back without assistance from his right hand. But they’re also a reminder of what he’s been through, of his faith and what he can accomplish.

“When I have my lows, I remember I was at a bottom so low, one that I thought I would never get out of,” Morel said. “And I see where I’m at and I keep fighting for my dreams and thanks to God, I’m achieving them.

“In the course of my career, of my life, it’s been filled with tons of obstacles, many roadblocks, many falls. But when you have faith in God and you stay strong and you ask, Papa Dios gives you that reward.”

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