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We all know about the concussion that kept Justin Morneau off the field in 2010 and his struggles on it so far in 2011, so there’s no need to rehash that here. The Twins first baseman sat down with me for a quick discussion before Monday’s game at Target Field.
DZ: On the last road trip you started to swing the bat a little better, is it just a matter of getting your timing back?
MORNEAU: My timing is fine, it’s just a matter of finding consistency with my swing. It’s something I am working on everyday, some days it feels good and some days it seems like it disappears. That’s all part of the game.
DZ: Have there been any days where you’ve felt like your old self from 2006 or 2008?
MORNEAU: Um (pauses), yeah I feel decent when I am out there. My head and all of that stuff has been a lot better compared to where I was. Everyday feels like it’s still getting better. I come everyday with the belief that it’s going to be a good day.
DZ: You are creeping up on 200 homeruns (184), when you hear totals like Harmon Killebrew’s - 573 - or Jim Thome - 591 - what goes through your mind?
MORNEAU: Just how difficult it is to do. Number one, you have to be healthy, number two you have to be consistent. Harmon had eight 40 homerun seasons - amazing - led the American League I think three or four times…Thome’s had a couple of 50 homer seasons, there’s not too many guys in the history of baseball - the last 120 years - that have done that, which is just amazing. To be fortunate enough to know both of them and play with one of them has been an honor.
DZ: Do you use Jim as a mentor?
MORNEAU: Oh yeah, I’ll talk to him about stuff all of the time. The only way to learn is to talk to other hitters. Obviously experience is one thing, but talking to other guys who have been through it and have been in every situation you can have as a hitter - you can learn from everybody. I’ll talk to guys on other teams, try and figure out what their approach is. Hitting is something you can continually improve on - your approach and everything else. Your swing kind of is what it is, but approach has a lot to do with it, mental make up and all of the rest of that.
DZ: Just about a week ago (May 15) you turned 30, what was that milestone like for you?
MORNEAU: Just a number (laughs). Felt like another day, I woke up - I don’t know, it’s one of those things that never really turns into that big of a celebration because we are usually playing on that night. My wife had a nice little surprise get together for me before the off day a few days before my birthday. It was nice. Other than that, birthdays are birthdays. When you are 30 - hopefully for me - (I am) only halfway through my career and you’ve got a lot of life left after that.
DZ: Obviously you’ve talked about the concussion a lot….how do you think that changed you, that whole experience?
MORNEAU: (pauses) It kind of gives you a little better perspective, a different outlook on things. When something you love is taken away from you when you are not ready for it or you don’t want it to be - not that anyone wants baseball to be taken away from them - you realize what else is important in your life. You get baseball taken away from you, but your family is still there and you realize how important they are in your life. When you are done playing baseball whenever that is, whether it’s 35 or 40 or whenever it is, you realize that they are still going to be there and they’ll always be there for you. That should be the most important thing. It just kind of helps with your priorities. Obviously, I didn’t put my family to the side before, but it just kind of reinforces those things.
DZ: What if this would’ve happen earlier in your career when you were single? Do you think it was easier having a family around to have that stability?
MORNEAU: Yeah, it definitely helped because you have someone to lean on those tough days. There were a lot of tough days and to have somebody there with you all of the time to remind you it’s going to be all right, it going to get better - you never know when that’s going to be - but it is going to get better and to have someone you trust telling you that helps a lot.
DZ: You became a father (last summer) what’s that experience been like for you?
MORNEAU: Awesome. (When you’re) 0 for 4 and you see that smile looking up at you, it makes it better and (when you’re) 4 for 4, it makes it even better. It’s one of those things that no matter what, she is just happy to see Dad come home. You kind of forget what happened during the day - good or bad — remember that there’s somebody there who is completely dependent on you and it’s a good feeling.
DZ: I noticed you have a little bit different facial hair (Fu Manchu mustache), are you just trying to mix it up, get a streak going?
MORNEAU: (smiles) Change it up, try and get some hits - however they come.
DZ: I know you are a big Canucks fan, you have to be pretty excited about how their season is going?
MORNEAU: Yeah, hopefully they get into the Finals (they did) - they are looking good now - and hopefully bring that Cup back to Vancouver. They’ve been waiting for it for a long time. (They have) great fans - I think they’ve sold out every game for the last eight or nine years. They are definitely deserving of seeing a Stanley Cup Final and winning it. I don’t know what they’ll do. They lost in ‘94 and there was a riot, so hopefully if they win it’s more of a celebration.
DZ: Were you pretty heartbroken when they lost - you were what, 13?
MORNEAU: Yeah, I remember it. It was definitely tough.
DZ: Do you know a few guys on the team?
MORNEAU: Yeah, I’ve been in touch with a few of them in the playoffs and stuff. It’s been a great run for them. It’s been fun to see how well (Ryan) Kesler’s done, the Sedins (twins Daniel and Henrik) have been playing well - everybody’s been playing well. It’s awesome to see.
See more of David Zingler’s interviews with Twins players: