As the season has worn on and the Twins have slipped in to the depths of the American League and out of the consciousness of most fans, Justin Morneau has slowly and quietly gotten his career back on track. After a month of June where he hit .232 with 1 homerun, Morneau’s bat began to reveal glimpses of the of the thunder that made him an annual MVP contender in the late 2000s. The big first baseman hit .315/.365/.483 in July and .314/.345/.505 in August.
Morneau’s numbers now stand at a respectable .274/.340/.458 with 19 homers and 75 RBI. More importantly, he’s been healthy, logging 126 games. Morneau sat down with me during the last homestand for candid discussion on his season, his injury issues and general life outlook.
DZ: How would you asses how the season has gone from a personal standpoint?
MORNEAU: The only thing that really matters is the team. If the team is in last place, it’s really not that good of a year. You can look for positives, you try to look for positives in everything. I started out spring training DHing and I am gonna finish the year playing first (base), which is good. It’s been good to be able to run out there everyday and be able to play. The second half has been a lot better than the first half. I don’t think we are too far off as an organization from winning. We are just a few pieces away, I feel like, from having a shot to make the playoffs.
DZ: You mentioned that for you the second half has been better. At any point, did something kind of click to make you kind of feel like you were getting your old groove back?
MORNEAU: I think it was gradual. Being able to do as much work as I need to do to get my swing where I want it to be. Just get the repetitions of playing everyday and start to feel comfortable out there and know where my swing is at. Just playing I think was the main thing.
DZ: You’ve had so much success at this level…was it almost like starting over?
MORNEAU: It’s one of those things - the more you face the pitchers, the more you know what to expect. In a sense I guess you could say it’s almost like starting over…If I hadn’t been through struggles in the past and been through different things, I don’t think I would’ve have been prepared for the way the season started enough to trust that if I put the work in the results are going to come.
DZ: You hit your 200th homerun recently. It probably took a little longer than you thought it was going to, but what did it mean to you to get that milestone?
MORNEAU: I don’t think I would have appreciated it as much a couple of years ago as I did (now). I think it was something that was possibly reachable in 2010, but that’s part of the game. Everybody at some point goes through injuries - some people get injured more than others and you just deal with it…it’s one of those things I had no control over. There is no sense in feeling sorry for myself or playing the “what if” game. What if, what if, what if - you could drive yourself crazy with that. (The 200th homerun) was one of those things where I was able to enjoy it a little bit and hopefully it’s the continuation of good things as opposed to a final accomplishment or whatever you want to say.
DZ: I don’t think it got real serious, but your name was mentioned in trades talks a little bit, what was that like?
MORNEAU: It is what it is. It’s out of your control. The only thing I can control is the limited no-trade (clause) that I have (in my contract). Other than that, if there’s a move they feel like will make the team better; if that’s the case then that’s the case. It wouldn’t be my choice. Obviously I am signed here for another year. I signed that (contract) with the intent of playing here whole time and possibly longer. We’ll see. (Being traded) is not something I’d choose to do, at the same time if you worry too much about that kind of stuff, it can consume you. I was relieved and happy when (the deadline past) that I was still here. I enjoy playing here and I enjoy the fans here and I like it here.
DZ: I think a lot of fans forget when trades come up that you can go play baseball anywhere, but your family is affected as well. Do you talk about that at home at all?
MORNEAU: Yeah it’s discussed, but not too in-depth. They say “whatever happens happens and we are there with you.” You make a home and that kind of stuff and you feel like you are home even if this isn’t where you are from. When you have to change that it’s all part of the game, all part of the business. It’s the side of it that nobody really enjoys and I am glad that we didn’t have to deal with it.
DZ: How much better do you feel right now than you did a year ago at this time?
MORNEAU: I more optimistic that I am going to be able to play after this contract is done - I’ll worry about that when I come to it. It’s just a better feeling being able to go out there and play everyday and not have to worry about that other stuff. Obviously, it’s the best I’ve felt in the last 3 years. Like I said, that’s out of my control. If I could go back and change anything I would, but I don’t think I would have learned as much from it or enjoyed what I am doing now as much if I hadn’t gone through all that stuff.
DZ: Is it hard not to replay that slide into second base in Toronto? Not dwell on that?
MORNEAU: It’s not something that I will forget. I would go in and break up that double play every single time. It’s just the way I play the game. I’d slide a little bit earlier maybe, but other than that - that’s just playing the game, that’s something that happens during the game, there is nothing you can really do about it.
DZ: Do you think this whole experience - it obviously hurt your career because you missed a lot of time - do you think it will make you a better person in the long run?
MORNEAU: I think it’s taught me to be more patient. My appreciation for the small things - instead of looking into the future so much, just enjoy every day. I think that’s a lesson we all kind of need to learn at some point. If something happens, I think that some people figure it out and go through it and learn from it. Some people just keeping moving on and waiting for what’s next - I was always one of those people and I’ve tried to be better at just enjoying every day.
DZ: Obviously retirement is difficult for any athlete, do you think this will make it easier for you…having to deal with maybe not playing again already?
MORNEAU: I don’t know, I will cross that bridge when I get to it. There’s a difference if it’s your decision or someone else’s decision. Very rarely is it ever our own decision. The desire is always there whether or not the body is or somebody wants you is another story.
DZ: One last thing - on a lighter note, kind of - everyone knows you are a big hockey fan, there might be a lockout, how optimistic are you about having a season?
MORNEAU: I can’t see it going for the whole year, but Thanksgiving or Christmas? I am optimistic they will start sooner than that - I hope it does just as a fan. With everything that has been said, how far apart they are it’s going to be difficult for that to happen. I am on the players side.
DZ: As an athlete?
MORNEAU: And as a fan. If you just look with common sense how much (the players) gave back last time. They rolled back their salaries and the revenue has grown over a billion dollars since then and you are going to ask them to give you the same concessions again. You can’t blame the system when it is the system (the owners) created last time. That’s my take on it.
See more of David Zingler’s interviews with Twins players:
September 18: Glen Perkins
August 20: Jamey Carroll
August 14: Scott Diamond
August 11: Darin Mastroianni
June 24: Ben Revere
June 19: Ryan Doumit
June 16: Brian Duensing
June 2: Brian Dozier
May 26: Josh Willingham
May 17: Denard Span
May 1: Jared Burton
April 28: Alex Burnett
April 21: Chris Parmelee
April 17: Sean Burroughs
April 13: Jeff Gray