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On June 10, 2003 Justin Morneau made his major league debut for the Twins in the Metrodome. The team was beginning a 3-game, Interleague series vs. Colorado. I happened to be covering the event for potential feature in Minnesota Score magazine. While the story never went to print due to Morneau’s demotion to Triple A in July, I did post an extended version of it on my website.
Morneau of course, has seen his share of towering achievements and crushing disappointment since those days. He won the AL MVP in 2006, the Homerun Derby in 2008 and the Silver Slugger twice, but in recent years, the 4-time All Star has battled injuries, most notably the catastrophic concussion that cost him a half of another potential MVP season in 2010 and hovered over him in 2011 into 2012.
Yes, it’s been an eventful decade for the longest tenured Twin. Morneau sat down with me prior to Tuesday’s game, 10 years and 1 day after he first stepped onto a major league diamond.
DZ: Ten years ago today you were gearing up for your second major league game. When you think back to that time, what stands out?
MORNEAU: It was all a blur. I think I caught a flight at 6am or something, got into the hotel at 10:30 in the morning, probably slept two hours the night before. I got to the field looked up and saw my name on the line-up card; I was hitting 4th. It was pretty cool playing against Colorado and Larry Walker. I was there with (Corey) Koskie; I think Koskie and I hit back-to-back, I am pretty sure. It was something pretty special.
DZ: If you could go back in time and talk to that 22-year-old kid, what would you tell him?
MORNEAU: I don’t know, maybe enjoy it a little more because you never know how long - I think every 22-year-old kid thinks they are going to play until they are 40 and just be healthy all the time and expect things instead of appreciate things that happen. I think that’s something I think I’ve gotten better at, just appreciating being able to play everyday and be out here with my teammates.
DZ: When you are 22, you don’t think you are every going to be 40.
MORNEAU: It seems so far away.
DZ: As an active player, do you have time to reflect on your career much or is that something you wait to do when you are done playing?
MORNEAU: I don’t know…if you are struggling you look back at when times are good or things that you’ve done well. I think that helps to just give yourself some positive reinforcement. Mentally you just say, OK, I’ve been in this situation before, succeeded here before and things like that. But, as far as big picture, I think you kind of try to leave that until you are done playing because you never know when that’s gonna be and you never want to sell yourself short…you never know how long your body is going to allow you to play and you never want to underestimate yourself.
DZ: This is the 4th year in Target Field, but you had a lot of great years in the Metrodome, have you been back in there since (2009).
MORNEAU: Yeah, we go back there for Twins Fest.
DZ: Yeah, duh (wondering how I overlooked that).
MORNEAU: Other than that I haven’t been back in there. I think it’s a place we were missing in April, but this is a beautiful ballpark.
DZ: It probably won’t be there a year from now.
MORNEAU: Yeah, that will be kind of sad. We had some great memories there, some fun times. It was before Twitter and Facebook and everybody created there own media though. It doesn’t seem that long ago, but a lot has changed in the last 10 years. It seems like things were a little simpler, obviously it wasn’t like playing before every game was on TV or anything like that. It has changed and it seems like things were simpler back then, I don’t know maybe that’s what just happens when you get older, everything seems like it was easier.
DZ: Let’s get to this year’s team. Obviously you guys probably aren’t where you want to be, but you have been a lot more competitive than you have been the past couple of years. What is your take on things so far?
MORNEAU: We had one little slip there when we lost 10 in a row. You don’t get to add or take anything away from the season, but that one bad stretch has cost us from being over .500. Now, we feel like we are a team that is capable of competing in this division. I think it always comes back to starting pitching; how deep those guys go in the game and how they protect your bullpen. Scoring runs is important, but the old adage that pitching and defense is important (is true). We’ve done that a lot better this year. Guys just being healthy and running out there, I think that’s made a difference (too).
DZ: You mentioned the 10-game losing streak, do you think maybe this year’s team bounced back a little bit better than the teams from the last couple of years would have?
MORNEAU: Yeah, I think we lost some games in there that we think we should have won. We lost some leads late. Even if we win one of those, it doesn’t look as bad. That’s part of it, but when you have veterans - obviously we have some rookies on this team - we have enough guys here to try and steer the ship in the right direction. Guys that know that you are going to go through good stretches and bad stretches during the season and you have to try to balance those out and not let them overwhelm you.
DZ: How about your personal performance, where are you at right now?
MORNEAU: I don’t know. I feel like I could be better. One of things I really wanted to focus on was being better with guys on base, guys in scoring position. I think that’s improved. The power numbers aren’t where I’d like them to be; I haven’t been driving the ball the way I’d like to, but we are tied for last place right now, so it’s hard to be satisfied with anything. You feel like you want to do more, you can do more. I feel like I am capable of doing more.
DZ: Bruins and Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals; who do you like?
MORNEAU: I don’t know. It’s going to be tough. Chicago is going to be hard to beat. After coming back from Detroit (down) 3-1, they are rolling pretty good, have a lot of confidence. They look like they are playing the way they were at the start of the season when they went undefeated for so long. It’s all going to come down to goaltending as it usually does and (Bruins goalie Tuukka) Rask has been playing unreal…If the Bruins win, it will be in 7, if Chicago wins, it will be in 5 or 6.
See more of David Zingler’s interviews with Twins players: