ANAHEIM -- Before taking their newly assigned front-office jobs with the Angels, Hal Morris and Mike LaCassa went the school route. LaCassa, a 25-year-old who didn't play baseball past the high-school level, studied Spanish, sports management and business at the University of Illinois for the sole purpose of doing the type of thing he's doing today.
Morris got a Masters of Business Administration from Stanford University -- and that was after a 13-year career in the Major Leagues.
"I think challenges in life are something to be savored," said Morris, handpicked by first-year general manager Jerry Dipoto to oversee the Angels' pro scouts.
Morris and LaCassa are both taking on new challenges in different ways. LaCassa, whose ever-evolving role currently has him handling all things player development, is entering his fourth full year in baseball and only his second full-time job. And after spending the last three years as a scout with the Pirates and Red Sox, Morris is now in his first ever front-office role.
But both are there because their superiors project plenty of promise.
Dipoto began noticing Morris' promise in a fantasy football league the two competed in during their playing days, which ran pretty parallel to one another.
"It was pretty standard that we were going to have four playoff teams at the end of every year," Dipoto recalled of that league, "and one of my assumptions going into the year was, 'I'm fairly certain I'm going to be in the playoffs and I'm fairly certain Hal's going to be in the playoffs. Who else do I have to worry about?'"
Primarily a first baseman, Morris and his funky batting stance compiled a .304 average with a .361 on-base percentage and 76 home runs in a career spent predominantly with the Reds.
He retired after the 2000 season, then went way outside his comfort zone.
For the better part of two years, Morris was in classrooms with students mostly young enough to be his kids, learning things like corporate strategy, microeconomics and corporate finance.
"I wanted to try to develop a different skill set and get instruction and training from a different perspective," Morris, now 46, said of obtaining his MBA. "I had been in baseball for quite a while, and I was curious to see what the mainstream business world looked like. And what better place to learn and be trained than Stanford?"
Morris dabbled in real estate and private-equity investments upon graduation, but recent trips to the ballpark in the Bay Area gave him that itch to return to baseball again.
In '08, an informal lunch led to A's GM Billy Beane sending Morris off to the two-week scout school in Phoenix.
Three years later, in November of 2011, Dipoto felt he'd be a good fit in his new baseball-operations staff.
"I feel like Hal can be whatever he wants to be in the game, and I'm really glad that he's doing what he's doing with us," Dipoto said. "He's got a wonderful take on players; he understands that it goes beyond just the physical ability that they bring to the table because he's done it. The credibility he brings to a room -- his people skills are terrific.
"This is his first Major League front-office job, so it's something he'll learn on the go, and I've already figured out that Hal is that guy that there may be a couple things he hasn't quite handled yet or dealt with that come along day-to-day, and as soon as he does it once, it's as if he's done it 20 times."
LaCassa, whose office is just two doors down from Morris', was brought over from the Rangers in January by new assistant GM Scott Servais. LaCassa, whose last name prompted former Rangers hitting coach Clint Hurdle to give him the nickname "House," began his baseball career as an intern with the Brewers, first in the sales department and then in scouting.
After an internship in player development with the Rangers in 2010, he held the title of player-development assistant and Arizona operations last season -- a role that saw him help run the Rangers' Spring Training complex in Surprise, Ariz.
Servais was so impressed, he brought LaCassa to Southern California a couple months after making the move himself.
"He just took so much off the coaches' plates -- helping them out, putting ideas down on paper, helping me put a lot of the system in place, whether it's moving players or dealing with players, different programs that coaches have come up with, and getting it all together on books and on paper and a form where you can actually present it to people and talk about it, where there's meat on the bone," Servais, the former Rangers player-development director, said of LaCassa. "... He's a young guy, but he's pretty much the first guy in the office and the last one to leave every night. He loves it, and he's a very big part of what we're doing moving forward."
Servais' job will keep him on the road, so LaCassa will be his point person in the team offices, where he'll keep in touch with coaches and players at all the affiliates, conduct statistical-analysis projects comparing the Angels' farm system with that of other organizations and eventually handle Minor League player contracts, among other things.
In the process, LaCassa expects to learn plenty -- especially from the new GM.
"His database of knowledge of players, his experience as a big leaguer, tied in with his scouting experience, tied in with his advanced knowledge of statistical measures, it's an incredible package," LaCassa said of Dipoto. "Every time I'm around him, I learn something new."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less