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Justin Morneau is having another monster season. The slugger currently leads the American League in homeruns and RBI and ranks 2nd in slugging percentage, 6th in on-base-percentage and 9th in batting average. Yeah, he’s good.
I caught up with the former MVP on Monday as he prepared for this week’s series against the White Sox.
DZ: Ending the road trip with a win and not getting swept (in Anaheim) probably made the flight home (on Sunday) a little more pleasant .
MORNEAU: Yeah. Anytime you win on getaway day and nights, especially heading back home after a long trip (is good). The trip didn’t go the way we wanted to but we are still within striking distance and we still have a chance.
DZ: The game in Oakland about a week ago I guess, where you had the big (10-run) lead and blew it; did you ever think you’d hit a grand slam and 3-run homer in back-to-back innings and not win the game?
MORNEAU: No (pauses). That was amazing, hopefully something I’ll never see again, being on the losing side that’s for sure. They just kept getting hits and kept battling and we lost a game that we shouldn’t have.
DZ: It was only three years ago that you were really coming into your own and you and Joe were roommates. Now obviously you are married and you guys have your own places; how has your relationship evolved?
MORNEAU: We’ll still carpool in together every once and awhile. Most day games I get dropped off at his house and come in together. Obviously, if there is something going on I don’t think he’s afraid to come and talk to me and if either of us have anything going on, there’s always that person there that you can talk to. It is good to have somebody on the team that you feel that close to and you feel that comfortable around. He kind of understands most of the situations that I am in.
DZ: Do you guys double date or anything like that?
MORNEAU: (laughs) If he’s seeing anybody, he’s got to make sure they are ready to go on a date and be interrogated by me to make sure they’re up to par. I think it takes a while before he’s comfortable enough to bring them around me.
DZ: It’s got to be pretty difficult for you guys to go out.
MORNEAU: Yeah, it’s tough. Most of the time if we are doing anything it will be barbequing at someone’s house or something like that where you can relax and not feel like you are kind of in the spotlight.
DZ: How about on the road, do you get recognized everywhere you go?
MORNEAU: It depends on what you do. I don’t really ever leave the hotel. Most of the cities we go to, I’ve been there so many times that I’ve seen everything I wanted to see when I was first in the league. Now, it’s room service, the field and back to the hotel - that’s pretty much all I do now.
DZ: In the big Sports Illustrated story on Joe a few weeks ago, there was a quote - it didn’t come directly from you - saying that if (Mauer) left after next year, you’d never talk to him again. Was that a joke?
MORNEAU: Yeah, that was a joke (laughs). That was my empty threat for him to not leave.
DZ: Joe has added the power to his game, did you give him any tips on that?
MORNEAU: No, it was just the natural evolution of a baseball player. His knowledge of the strike zone is good, now he realizes what counts he’s in, what situations he’s in when it is possible to try and go for that homerun (like) when there’s nobody on base and two outs and you need an extra base hit to get into scoring position or even a homerun helps. I think he’s just feeling more comfortable as a hitter where he’s able to do that.
DZ: His first at bat of the season - when he hit it out - did you kind of know that you would see some more power or did you think it was a fluke?
MORNEAU: (laughs) It was amazing. We were all kind of - I wouldn’t say shocked - were all smiling for him that he was able to come back and do that at home. It’s just the start, hopefully he keeps that going for the last two months.
DZ: Another guy who’s really stepped up his game this year is Jason Kubel. He had a good year last and seems to have really built on that. How much has his presence in the line-up helped you out?
MORNEAU: It’s helped a lot. It makes our line-up deeper and getting Cuddyer back healthy and you add Joe Crede in there - another power threat - it’s hard to chose who you are going to pitch to. With Kubel, if you make a mistake, he’ll hit it over the fence. He helps me get better pitches to hit. If they walk me he comes up and gets a big hit - pick your poison. He’s doing really well.
DZ: I read today that you guys have hit as many homeruns this year as you did all of last year.
MORNEAU: I’ve got more.
DZ: No, the whole team.
MORNEAU: Yeah (laughs). Last year was tough, we still scored a lot of runs and we manufactured (runs) - we were a better situational hitting team. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to hit that three-run homer and get back into the game that way too.
DZ: Just a couple of more things; you went to the All Star Game for the third time - is it getting routine now or is it still pretty amazing?
MORNEAU: It’s still fun, looking around and seeing the Hall of Famers there, great players, being in the same room as them - just being part of a great event. You know what is expected when you go there, you don’t run yourself too crazy. It’s just one of those things, it’s a lot of fun to be there. You are honored every time you get to go.
DZ: I read that another star Canadian player (Boston’s) Jason Bay recently became a US citizen, is that something you could ever see yourself doing?
MORNEAU: (pauses) I don’t know.
DZ: You seem pretty proud of your Canadian (heritage).
MORNEAU: Yeah and so is he. When you do something like that it is for the benefit of your kids or whatever - it makes it easier crossing the border. There are just situations where it helps out a lot. I talked to him about it and he said he didn’t really think much about it, just kind of did it - no big deal.
DZ: Do you have to get a work VISA to play here?
MORNEAU: Yeah, I have a green card.
DZ: The new stadium is really coming along, have you had a chance to go out there recently and what did you think?
MORNEAU: We were there probably a month and a half, two months ago. It looks awesome, I can’t wait. I will probably go back there in September and check it out once they put the grass in and see how it is going to play, stand at home plate, see how the fences look…I am really looking forward to it.
DZ: You guys spend a lot of time in the clubhouse obviously too and this isn’t one of the better ones in the league; are you looking forward to that, having a lot more space?
MORNEAU: Yeah. Just being in a clubhouse that isn’t a 5-minute walk from the field, having a batting cage in the weight room and having everything right there makes everything more convenient. Having a baseball only facility, where we don’t lose half our parking lot, just the little things that will be nice and make everything a little more comfortable and will hopefully translate into more wins.
See more of David Zingler’s interviews with Twins players: