By Jim Owczarski Sports Editor Published Jul 20, 2012 at 11:00 AM

Few players in recent Milwaukee Brewers history have ingratiated themselves to the fan base more quickly than Nyjer Morgan.

The 32-year-old outfielder was brought to Milwaukee in late March last year in a deal with the Washington Nationals for prospect Cutter Dykstra, and immediately became a fan favorite both for his play on the field and a gregarious personality.

One of his more notable Milwaukee experiences was when he was forwarded's 100 Things To Do In Milwaukee list, which included flying a kite. T-Plush took to the idea, and it went viral.

Since that time, he drove in the game-winning run in the National League Division Series, walked the red carpet at the "Twilight" movie premiere, had his own bobblehead day at Miller Park, and adopted a cat.

Despite being in Milwaukee for just over a year, it seems long overdue for a Milwaukee Talks with Morgan.

In uniform, he oozes confidence, swagger. Catch him over a bowl of peaches and cottage cheese, and he's reserved, introspective. The total package is why Milwaukee has fallen for the guy – and in this edition of Milwaukee Talks you see a bit of both as he opens up about the charities close to his heart, why he really adopted a cat, how he might save the life of a loved one, and those hipster shades that were seemingly everywhere, from Alterra to the NBA Finals. In going through your bio, one of the more interesting organizations you're involved with is the Options For Life Foundation, which "promotes alternative and complementary medicine in the treatment of cancer and other life threatening disease." How did you get involved in that unique cause?

Nyjer Morgan: A buddy of mine that I know, his daughter died suddenly. His name is Richie (Fay) and he's the head producer for Summit Entertainment and that's how I got into "Twilight" and stuff like that – it had to deal with sudden death and being able to give back. It helps me give back. Anything I can help out and anything I could do to help somebody else out.

OMC: Was the alternative aspect to that foundation appealing, considering you're a vegetarian and more in tune with organic ideals?

NM: It was just one of those things that I felt like I had to do that just because Richie and I are friends. I just felt like it was a good opportunity to get involved with it and just help out anybody who is in need of something like that.

OMC: You're also heavily involved in the National Kidney Foundation of Wisconsin.

NM: I got involved with that when I was still in D.C. and the reason I got involved was my cousin, she was 3 years old at the time, and she was diagnosed with a Wilms tumor on her kidney and that was another opportunity for me to just help out the cause of kidney disease. I think 700,000 Americans – something like that – African-Americans are diagnosed with kidney diseases and a lot of them don't have the money to get in line and get into the dietary program and stuff like that. It's so people can get in there. There are more serious people who are in need of getting a tumor (removed) and basically it's more for people to get bumped up in line who are in more serious need.

OMC: Along those lines – have you looked into organ donation awareness?

NM: I'm an organ donor.

OMC: You are? That's just as important as raising awareness. Actually acting on it.

NM: Yeah, definitely. I'm an organ donor. It's a thing where I look at myself and I've still got a healthy enough heart and healthy enough body parts and stuff like that maybe I can help somebody else out who is in need.

OMC: Have you always been this way in the sense of being aware of the needs of those around you?

NM: I just started realizing, you know? You just can't take things for granted. It's just that I've got more opportunity. Since I am Major League Baseball player and I am a role model and for anything for me to give back, that's all I can ask for.

OMC: Another unique way in which you created some awareness was your PETA campaign with your cat Slick Willie, which included a video – how did all that come about? Were you looking for a pet?

NM: I just walked up the street and was doing my little research. I always wanted a dog but just with playing baseball and having a hectic schedule it's tough keeping a dog because it's basically like having a kid. So a cat's more independent and you can leave him at home a little bit and he'll be all right. Instead of coming home and talking to myself I'm talking to my cat. I just went out and got a cat and not thinking and not knowing about how they keep kittens and pound puppies for a week and then they euthanize them. I helped out a life, so that's what's cool, man.

OMC: Because of your status as a ballplayer, and the fact that you make it known you're into supporting causes, do organizations come to you to help them or do you seek out causes?

NM: Yeah. People come to you and try to get a hold of you because they know your awareness. That's what helps out, having me going out there and doing what I do and then that opens doors for everything else.

OMC: Speaking of videos – you did a NOC TV bit called "Sh*t Black Guys Do" – what was behind that?

NM: That was spontaneous. I live life, man. It was just one of those things that was brought to my attention and I said 'let's do it.' I was either going to catch some flak for it or people were going to laugh. It actually worked out, they did a good job and I'd definitely do something like that again?

OMC: Have you seen the behind the complimentary behind the scenes video?

NM: I don't need to see the behind the scenes – I was there!

OMC: The director narrated the outtakes, and the back-and-forth you two had with trying to get the lines right. Was that whole process difficult?

NM: It wasn't hard. She was just trying to throw it out in her words and I'll be like, nah, that's not how it should be so I throw my own twists on it. So we kind of went back and forth but it worked out.

OMC: With having some friends in the entertainment business, doing some of these viral videos, does that fit in to what you're doing now as a baseball celebrity or something you may want to get into when you retire?

NM: No, I just take each day as it comes, man. I don't worry about anything in the future and stuff like that. I take each day as it comes, man.

OMC: OK – on the fashion end. You can tell from the videos and your public appearances that you like to look good. I had to get your thoughts on the "hipster shades" that seemed to everywhere this winter and spring.

NM: It's just a fad. No lenses? Stunner shades without the lenses? We were doing that in the Bay Area back in the 2000s during the Hyphy train man! Stunner shades on without the lenses. Nah, man, that's old school, man. They just brought it out to light. That's been a fad. That's already been done.

OMC: You're laughing.

NM: It's been done in the Bay. I guess it finally got out.

OMC: Speaking of accessories – do you still have the SWAT team helmet made famous last year? Put away somewhere?

NM: I've still got that. I tucked it away. It's special. It's was a special year.

Tony Plush flies a kite.


OMC: You went out to fly a kite – have you done anything else where you tried to interact directly with your fans?

NM: I ended up playing "Waldo" with the fans, tweeting out pictures when I was in New York. I was in a big crowd, kind of like 'Where's Plush at?' Hiding in the crowd and stuff like that. People were finding me, so it was pretty cool.

OMC: Speaking of interaction – here it seems fans want to entertain, as well, with the "Rally Banana" and "Front Row Amy." Have you been anywhere else where the fans seem to have personas?

NM: No. The fans here are cool, man. Everybody's got their own little personality. Everybody's chill about it.

OMC: You also have taken to "The Keg" nickname for Miller Park.

NM: Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah. It's pretty solid. Yeah, somebody said something about (Miller Park) and everybody was like "No, that's The Keg" and ever since then I've been calling it "The Keg."

OMC: At this point, most people know of your hockey background – but playing it back then you had to have been one of the few African-American players in the junior leagues. Were there any negatives to that?

NM: I was one of the few. There weren't too many when I played. It was a very cool experience. I got to learn a lot of things. I got to see so many different things as a young kid at 16 years old, going up to Canada, living on your own. It was just something I'll never forget. It's something I'll always embrace and I'll always remember. I don't take nothing back from that. It was a special time in my life that helped me grow as a man.

OMC: Do you like seeing how many doors have opened in that sport for black hockey players around the world?

NM: There are certain guys like Wayne Simmonds is a highly touted player, Jarome Iginla, those are the guys that gotta help it out, help out the African-American community and hopefully they get it big. If I was still playing that's something I'd probably do, but now since I'm not playing I focus myself on baseball and things like that. It's something that hopefully those guys can get more African-Americans into.

OMC: You were able to practice with your hometown San Jose Sharks  – have you stayed in touch with any of those guys?

NM: Joe Thornton was out here just a little bit ago. He was watching a game maybe a month and a half ago.

OMC: Have the Milwaukee Admirals tried to get you out to a practice or form a partnership with you?

NM: No, but I've been to a couple games. I actually love going to those games. I just like the fans, when they start screaming and chanting those funny chants – "Nuts and bolts, nuts and bolts, we got screwed!" That's pretty cool.

OMC: You've got a wide variety of interests – yet one of the more unique ones is an interest in agriculture. Do you garden?

NM: Yeah, man. I've got my own garden at the house. It just kind of relaxes me. It takes me to another place. For some reason I like doing that. I don't know why. I think it's because of my mom. She always had a garden in our yard and me and her would always go out there and talk and shoot the breeze, it's always a cool feeling to have a garden at your house.

OMC: Do you garden with the purpose of cooking your own vegetables and vegetarian meals?

NM: No, it's just one of those things where I grew up with it so that's more of what it is. It's my relaxation.

OMC: Being a vegetarian and traveling as much as you do, have you found it difficult to find good places to eat or is Milwaukee a good fit?

NM: The one on Farwell (Sobelmans Eastside Grill) for burgers. They've got good stuff there. It just depends on what community you're in, really. You can tell there are a lot people around here that like to eat real healthy. I feel like it's another California out here. Yeah, you can tell people are into it. I feel like there's a hippy-ish vibe.

OMC: As a high level athlete, how do you balance a vegetarian diet with the physical demands placed on you?

NM: I just talk with our guys (trainers). Everywhere I've been I've picked somebody in nutrition's brain so I just eat whatever they've got for me and mix it with my own stuff.

OMC: You've played in Pittsburgh and Washington – how do you think Milwaukee responded to you in comparison?

NM: A lot better than D.C. I'll always have a love for Pittsburgh because that's where I came up and they gave me my first opportunity. When I went to D.C. I got to see a little bit more and now being here, the fans embrace you and if you play hard and you play your heart out there the fans will embrace you more. Plus, I figure we're all entertainers anyway so leave it all out on the field and entertain. Give the fans a show and basically give the fans what they pay for.

Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.

A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.

To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.

Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining

In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.

Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.