Jim Souhan: All grown up, Morneau takes long-term look

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 20, 2009 - 12:14 AM

The slugger, whose contract expires in 2013, said he wants to finish his career with the Twins.

First baseman Justin Morneau, who like most Twins position players showed up for spring training early, autographed a baseball for a fan on Tuesday morning.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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FORT MYERS, FLA. — After winning the Home Run Derby and scoring the winning run in last year's edition, Justin Morneau can't help but think about the All-Star Game. What's strange is, he keeps thinking of the one scheduled for 2014.

Morneau's current six-year contract with the Twins runs through 2013. The Twins hope to bring the All-Star Game to Target Field soon after.

"I've thought about how long I want to play and how long I want to be around, and how I'd love to spend my whole career as a Minnesota Twin," Morneau said. "I've thought about what the new ballpark is going to be like, and how I can't wait to play in it. They're looking at having the All-Star Game the year after my contract runs out. I've thought about how fun it would be to be a part of all that."

It's not unusual for someone to contemplate their career path. To appreciate how unusual this sounds coming from Morneau, though, remember that not long ago, he was the hot prospect who angered veteran Twins teammates by strutting around the spring training clubhouse with his shirt off, who angered Torii Hunter with what he thought was a carefree attitude during a poor Twins season, who angered manager Ron Gardenhire with too many late-night beer binges.

So now we're supposed to believe that Morneau, a 27-year-old ballplayer, is Mr. Maturity? Well ... yeah, compared to most 27-year-old stars with the world at their feet.

This winter, Morneau ...

• Got married. "I never thought I'd get married until I turned 30, then all of a sudden," he says, snapping his fingers, "just like that, it was an easy decision."

• Worked out harder than ever, starting his program earlier in the offseason and lifting heavier weights, following his September slump.

"I was frustrated by September," he said. "I want the strength to last longer during the season this year. From the end of last season, I'm probably 10-12 pounds heavier. You have to let it go at some point, but it was something that motivated me all winter."

• Thought about about playing at Target Field along with Joe Mauer. "I've told Joe, if he ever leaves me, I'll never speak to him again," Morneau said. "We've got to get him signed to an extension.

"I don't see any reason for me to leave Minnesota. Now, if we were finishing in fourth place every year, I would definitely be thinking about it. But we come to spring training every year, everyone picks us to finish third or fourth, and we always have a chance to win.

"We develop guys, we brings guys up through the minors, we have that family-type atmosphere where you want to come to the ballpark every day."

Morneau has developed from a goofy, shy kid with a wild swing into a perennial MVP candidate whom Gardenhire relies on to enforce team standards. Ask his best friends on the team to tease him these days, and they struggle to come up with good material.

"His new truck looks funny," outfielder Michael Cuddyer said. "It's got, like, a spoiler on it. That's about all I got."

Said Mauer: "His was the first wedding I've ever been to where they played AC/DC. I mean, he's pretty easy to make fun of, but I can't think of anything new."

AC/DC? At a wedding? "Growing up, we'd listen to AC/DC before hockey games," Morneau said. "That was for all my boys."

One of the challenges of evaluating young athletes is guessing when they are going to grow up. Morneau didn't know himself.

"All that stuff happened because I wanted to fit in and feel comfortable," Morneau said. "When I first came up, I can see now how it rubbed people the wrong way. You look at the guys who have been here a while and you try to do what they do, but there's a reason they act that way -- because they've been around.

"You've got to earn your stripes. People took it as me being cocky, but I was just trying to be like everybody else. At the same time, I wouldn't act the same way now, if I could go back and do it all over.

"That's how you learn. That's life."

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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