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While just about everyone with even a passing interest in the Minnesota Twins was giddy with an anticipation for the 2010 season to begin, for Justin Morneau there was some added incentive. The 3-time All Star was forced to watch the team’s stretch run and playoff series from the bench last year after a back injury prematurely ended his season.
Now the big first baseman in fully healed and ready to terrorize American League pitchers once again. Morneau, as always, was nice enough to chat with me last week as he prepared for a game against Cleveland.
DZ: Are you getting used to coming (to Target Field) everyday, is the newness factor wearing off at all?
MORNEAU: It’s starting to feel like home. It’s still exciting driving in here and walking out onto the field and all that stuff. We are starting to get that comfort level, played a few night games, kind of get settled into our routines and all that kind of stuff.
DZ: Have you found yourself on autopilot going to the Dome at all?
MORNEAU: (laughs) I moved this year so it’s a little different. I am sure if I was coming from the same direction, I am sure I would make that mistake a few times, but we moved so it’s a little different.
DZ: You guys are off to a great start, got some new guys in the line-up; is this the best line-up they’ve had since you’ve been around here?
MORNEAU: This is a very exciting line-up. It’s hard to argue with - ‘04 was pretty good. Anytime you get a lot of veteran hitters in the line-up, you make it very difficult on pitchers. This line-up has a chance to be the best we’ve seen, but that depends on everyone staying healthy and everyone playing up to their potential. I like our chances though.
DZ: Going back to last year, your offseason - in a way - got off to earlier start than you would’ve liked. Once the season finally did get over, did you have to rehab or anything like that?
MORNEAU: I waited, pretty much just let it heal…I got shut down for about three months, came back and just did some core strength and exercises and all that kind of stuff. A lot of core and trying to build my leg strength back up. It reacted well and has been good so far.
DZ: Was it the most difficult offseason you’ve had in a while; probably since ‘05 when you had all of the goofy illnesses and everything?
MORNEAU: It’s one of those things that was very difficult. For me, once the season is over, it’s over and you let it go and get ready for the next year. I couldn’t start working out yet so I got a little restless around the house and wasn’t able to do everything I wanted to get ready, that’s kind of what made it different. Once the season is done, it’s done and you can’t do anything about it.
DZ: Did you look forward to spring training a little more than usual because of that, just to get going again?
MORNEAU: For about the first five days, then you remember it’s spring training (laughs). You are ready for the season to start after about two weeks.
DZ: Is there anything positive you can take away from having the injury and sitting out?
MORNEAU: You realize how much you love the game sitting there watching. How much you love running out there and going to battle everyday. But you get hurt, it happens, people have to deal with it all of the time. It’s just kind of how you react to it; you have to stay positive. I feel like you learn those kind of things.
DZ: The team played well enough in the regular season without you, but in the playoffs they really struggled to score runs. Was it tough for you to sit back and watch that knowing you could’ve helped if you were healthy?
MORNEAU: At that point - obviously, it’s hard to watch - I was kind at ease with it. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to play. There was no sense in beating myself up. It’s easy to play the “what if?” game…
DZ: You had a month or so to kind of get used to (not playing)…
MORNEAU: Yeah, it’s one of those things that’s not easy to sit and watch when you feel like when there’s a big situation - you want to be up there in it and feel like you’ve been in it before, feel like you can make a difference, but at the same time, I knew there was no way I was going to be able to go out there. I guess that might of made it a little bit easier. It was very difficult, that’s for sure.
DZ: Let’s talk about a part of your game that gets overlooked - your defense; how you think you’ve improved over the years.
MORNEAU: It’s something I take pride in, something we all take pride in. I think one of the reasons I didn’t make it to the big leagues sooner was their confidence in me over at first. It’s something where you want your pitchers to feel confident that if they get a ground ball - if they are doing the right things - they are going to be able to get outs. They have to have confidence in everyone in the infield, not just myself.
DZ: Do you ever think about (winning) gold gloves?
MORNEAU: It’s (laughs) kind of out of my control. Obviously it depends on how I play. At the same time - obviously it would be nice - the only thing that really matters to me is winning a World Series. If I am playing good enough defense to win a gold glove and that means us winning a World Series, that would be great.
DZ: Obviously you’re a really young guy, have a lot of fame, a lot of money; how do you stay grounded, how do you stay a real person?
MORNEAU: Family kind of keeps you in check and let’s you know when you are getting a little bit ahead of yourself and that kind of stuff.
DZ: How about your wife, does she play a role in that?
MORNEAU: Of course, she’ll let me know when I am getting out of line, that’s for sure.
See more of David Zingler’s interviews with Twins players: