University of Missouri

Mizzou Monday: A J'Mon Moore story, softball misses SEC tourney, baseball slips, more

J'Mon Moore happy with his performance at Mizzou's pro day

J'Mon Moore is the Missouri Tigers' best NFL prospect. He improved his 40-yard dash time at Mizzou's pro day on March 22, 2018 in Columbia.
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J'Mon Moore is the Missouri Tigers' best NFL prospect. He improved his 40-yard dash time at Mizzou's pro day on March 22, 2018 in Columbia.

On Mondays, Aaron Reiss, one of The Star’s Mizzou beat writers, will offer a digest of thoughts on the Tigers and MU story lines to follow.

Media’s access to college athletes can be so limited that even the smallest gesture is enough to qualify a football player as a “nice guy,” or a basketball star as “really cool.”

Players often talk to reporters while sitting on a dais, or in a scrum setting for five minutes after a game, while a bus is waiting. Those setups can prevent athletes from getting to know the people who cover them, so when an athlete addresses me by my first name, I’m always a little surprised.

And I was really surprised when J’Mon Moore texted me a couple of years ago.

First, some context: Moore was a media favorite when he played for Mizzou. He was funny, candid and willing to stick around after practices for as long as reporters needed him. He showed up to talk after his bad performances, too — including a 2016 loss to Georgia, when he had a critical late fumble.

Moore, a recent fourth-round pick of the Green Bay Packers, seems to have already made a good impression on the Wisconsin media. Unlike most Packers rookies, he wasn’t surprised by the amount of reporters who cover the state’s favorite team — maybe because a ton of student journalists help make the Missouri press corps larger than you’d probably guess.

Anyway, the story, which I thought of earlier this week after seeing the above tweet. I was working on a profile of Moore in 2015, and after a lot of phone tag, I scheduled an interview with his mom. But as I was working on the story, my own mother’s leukemia was worsening. My mom passed away around the time I was supposed to talk to Betty Jones-Moore, who I texted to explain why I needed to reschedule our phone interview. She sent a gracious text back, and a few hours later, her son sent me a text, too.

It wasn’t a long one. He just told me that he was sorry to hear about my mother dying; that he’d also lost people close to him far too soon, so he knew the feeling; and that he would be thinking of my family.

Like Moore, I grew up in the Houston area, and before or after a lot of interviews, we would chat about the Rockets or the Texans. Still, I wasn’t sure until I received that text from him that he actually knew my name.

Some athletes seem to feel as though talking to reporters is just another obligation, which is their right. But I’ll always appreciate Moore and people like him, who are patient, friendly and reliable for a good quote.

Softball misses SEC tourney

Missouri is hosting the Southeastern Conference softball tournament this weekend, but the Tigers won’t be playing in the 12-team tournament. After No. 4 Florida swept Mizzou in Columbia this past weekend, the Tigers (28-27, 6-17 SEC) finished in last place of the 13-team SEC, and only 12 teams make the conference tournament.

The last time the school hosting the conference tournament failed to qualify was 2011, when Mississippi didn’t make what was then an eight-team field.

“We’re hurting and obviously disappointed with how this one turned out today,” Missouri interim coach Gina Fogue said on Sunday, after Florida scored four runs in the top of the seventh inning to beat MU, 7-4. “... I told our group that our season isn’t done, as we have to focus and prep for the potential NCAA Tournament. Still a lot ahead of us.”

Yep, Mizzou could still make a NCAA regional. Missouri entered the weekend ranked No. 23 in RPI, and the Tigers have played one of the nation’s toughest schedules (No. 3 as of last week).. There’s also this: A season ago, all 13 SEC teams qualified for the postseason.

Baseball drops to last in division

It was a rough weekend for the Mizzou baseball team, too. Those Tigers also suffered a home sweep. This one came against No. 20 Georgia, and it dropped MU (30-18, 9-15) to last place in the SEC East. That means the Missouri baseball team could miss out on the conference tournament, too.

“We picked a bad weekend to be bad,” Missouri coach Steve Bieser told reporters after Saturday’s 7-1 loss. If there was one good thing that came out of this weekend for Bieser’s squad, it happened on Friday, when Hunter Brown, a local boy with cerebral palsy, threw out the first pitch to celebrate the work he did with MU occupational therapy students.

Just more than two weeks ago, Missouri’s pitching staff had the No. 15 ERA in the country, and the Tigers were winning a series against Vanderbilt. Since then, Mizzou has struggled to contain opponents’ bats.

Kentucky scored 10-plus runs in two of its games against the Tigers. Iowa crossed home plate 16 times in a Missouri win last week. Georgia averaged 7.3 runs per contest during this past weekend’s series.

These Tigers’ two remaining series are at South Carolina and versus Tennessee in Columbia. The latter series is critical. The Volunteers are just one game ahead of the Tigers in the SEC East standings, and the two teams’ meeting on the final weekend of regular season could determine which squad claims the division’s last spot in the conference tournament.

Outspoken former MU golfer has brief PGA success

Through the first two days of the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C., this past weekend, former Missouri golfer Peter Malnati was having perhaps his best-ever outing as a pro. He teed off with the last group for the first time in his career on Saturday, and he appeared to have a chance to break a drought of top-10 finishes that dates back to July 2016.

Unfortunately for Malnati, things fell apart after that. He shot four-over par on Saturday and three-over par on Sunday. He finished the Wells Fargo Championship tied for 34th.

The brief success still gave Sports Illustrated a reason to catch up with Malnati, who was outspoken in supporting NFL players kneeling during the national anthem last fall.

“I ask you to think about something,” Malnati wrote as part of an eight-paragraph statement he tweeted last September. “What do the United States flag and the national anthem represent? Yes, they represent fallen heroes who have died protecting this nation. But what exactly are the principles for which those heroes sacrificed? They sacrificed for freedom — for “liberty and justice, for all.” they sacrificed to uphold and defend the ideals of the United States: compassion, empathy, equality, and hope for a better life.”

Golf is filled with a lot of conservative athletes, and Malnati told SI that he had to deal with hecklers for a few weeks. But the kneeling storyline faded a bit as the news cycle moved on, and the jeers directed toward Malnati stopped. He said that he wishes they hadn’t.

“Maybe I guess you could say I disrespected the current president,” Malnati told SI. “But my message was one of, ‘Hey let’s have some empathy. Let’s care for each other. Let’s not tear each other down and have some empathy.’ If you can read that message and think I’m a horrible person, I don’t have a ton of respect for that person.”