Morneau on the Injury, the Metrodome & More


When a stress fracture in his L-5 vertebrae ended Justin Morneau’s season on September 12, the Twins were 70-72 and 5 ½ games behind the Tigers.  You thought they were done, admit it. I did. The club had hovered around .500 all season and with Morneau’s 30 homeruns and 100 RBI removed from the line-up, they would assuredly exit the Metrodome a losing team.

Since then of course, the Twins are 16-4 and will play Detroit for the AL Central title at home on Tuesday night. We should have known the Metrodome wouldn’t go out like that.

Morneau meanwhile, took some time out to chat with me before Friday’s game about the unceremonious end to his season and to reflect back on his first 5 full big league seasons.

DZ: The team is still in it, but this season - on a personal level - didn’t end the way you wanted it to. Looking back, this is your 5th full season in the big leagues, you’ve been to 3 All Star Games and won a MVP, did you think it would work out this well for you?

MORNEAU: You don’t really plan for anything like that, you just want when you first get up here to try and stay. Once you get up here, you try to stay as long as you can and hope to have some success. Once you have a little success you just want to keep getting better and that is kind of what drives you - wanting to get better and wanting to win - that what it is.

DZ: Does it all kind of fly by? Is it kind of a blur?

MORNEAU: Yeah, (the years) kind of blend into each other. They start to blend together a little bit, but every year there’s something different. There’s a lot of different teammates; there is a few new guys who come in and that kind of thing. The ones you usually remember are the ones that are successful. And the year that stands out most for me is ‘06, it was a playoff year and a year and a year when we went on a great run and had a lot of fun.

DZ: With the injury, is there kind of a process you go through where you feel a little pain and are kind of in denial at first, think “I can play through this” -  talk a little about that.

MORNEAU: It’s one of those things, kind of like anything else, you get a little sore and hope you can treat it and try to avoid going to the doctor as much as you can - try to avoid all of that stuff. Eventually it comes to a point where you feel like you are not helping the team and start to get it checked out and that’s when you decide what you need to do. It’s kind of one of those things where everyone is hurt at some point during the year and you try to fight through it and sometimes you are not helping the team.

DZ: Watching you on TV - I noticed it more on TV than is person - the last month while you were playing hurt, there were times where it looked like you really got a hold of one - the swing looked good, but the ball just didn’t carry. Is that something you felt?

MORNEAU: I didn’t feel like I could take the normal swings that I wanted to. I didn’t feel like I could hit the ball the other way, I didn’t feel like I could cover both sides of the plate like I normally do. Other than that, it was one of those things where it took a lot of strength out of me when I actually hit a ball good.

DZ: Traveling with the team and coming to the park and everything, has that kind of helped you deal with this - staying in somewhat of a routine?

MORNEAU: It’s tough coming in everyday, but I get to watch - if the boys win, but if they don’t I feel like I could be helping us. We’ve been winning and that makes it easier. It is not easy at all to come in everyday and not be able to play. That’s makes it tough, but it’s one of those things everyone deals with at some point in their career.

DZ: Is there anyone you talk to who has been through longer term injuries who helps you deal with the mental aspects of this?

MORNEAU: Yeah, I talked to Cuddy (Michael Cuddyer) a little bit. He told me how tough it was for him last year and for me it’s just good to remain positive and try to just be part of it.

DZ: Is there anything you can learn watching versus playing, pick up any subtleties or anything like that?

MORNEAU: You can kind of watch how pitchers approach guys and that kind of thing - in different situations, but when you learn the most is when you are in the batter’s box. There are little things here and there that you notice, but not a whole lot. It is just more just trying to stay positive and just trying to be around and help the guys more than anything else.

DZ: Is the toughest part when the game starts - you still come to the park, you still get dressed?

MORNEAU: Yeah, being on the bench instead of running out to play defense. It’s something you just kind of deal with. I don’t have any expectations to go out there and play - I am not going to be able to play - so I just shut my mind off from that part of it, knowing that I am not going to be able to go out there and play.

DZ: Getting to a little more uplifting news, I guess - you were named to the all Metrodome team which had to be pretty cool.

MORNEAU: Yeah, with the guys who have played - especially with Hrbek - we’re sharing that honor over there at first (base) - we are the only ones who are sharing a position, so that’s pretty cool with a guy who played his whole career in here and played in the World Series and won a couple of World Series and did great. Just to be over there and standing with him is going to be pretty cool and be on that team with the best players in the last 30 years for the Twins.

DZ: Do you know Kent Hrbek at all, do you talk to him much?

MORNEAU: Yeah, I talk to him, did his fishing show (Kent Hrbek Outdoors) and those kind of things. From him being around - he comes around quite a bit - I get to talk to him and he’s a pretty good guy.

DZ: Everyone likes to rip on the Dome and there are some good reasons for that obviously, but you have some really good memories here too - broke into the big leagues, won a MVP - probably some of the best moments of your life. How will you remember this place?

MORNEAU: I will try to remember the good stuff. Driving in in April when it’s raining and cold, coming inside - those kind of things. Other than that, I am looking forward to the new place more than I think I am going to miss this place that’s for sure. There’s great memories here - like you said - my first big league game, a couple of division championships and playing in the playoffs here when it’s crazy and loud - that kind of stuff. It’s also a great time of us to move on, we’ve got some pretty good young players and should have a good shot at winning next year as well as this year.

DZ: Do you think you’ll ever want to go to a Vikings game or something just to come in here again?

MORNEAU: I think it will be more depressing walking in here. It’s tough, especially in the summer time when it’s 85 degrees outside and you are coming inside here and it’s just kind of blah, I don’t know - there’s nothing really exciting about it.

See more of David Zingler’s interviews with Twins players:

September 18: Jeff Manship
September 16: Brian Duensing
September 3: Jon Rauch
August 28: Nick Punto
August 27: Scott Baker
August 18: Jason Kubel
August 16: Carl Pavano
July 28: Justin Morneau
July 15: Anthony Swarzak
July 10: Bobby Keppel
July 8: Denard Span

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