Justin Morneau sounded pretty certain Saturday that he will return to the Twins.
Just not necessarily next year. For that matter, not necessarily as a player.
“I can’t say [it’s] unlikely” that he’ll wear a Twins uniform again someday, Morneau said during his first public appearance here since being traded to Pittsburgh on Aug. 31. “There’s no saying I won’t be back in the future. You never know what the opportunity is going to be, whether it’s as a player, later, or as a coach, or someone who comes down to spring training. Whatever it is, it’s a different chapter, but [Minnesota] is something that will stick with me forever.”
He proved it Saturday by signing hundreds of autographs at the Fan HQ store at Ridgedale Center, his first public appearance here since being traded to Pittsburgh on Aug. 31. Morneau was on hand to thank donors to his coat drive, a monthlong charity effort that wound up about 10 times more successful than he and his wife, Krista, imagined.
“Our original goal was 300 coats, and we surpassed that in the first two days,” Morneau said. “It’s been amazing to see the response.”
That response allowed the Salvation Army Harbor Light Center in downtown Minneapolis to distribute 1,800 coats on Thanksgiving Day to needy residents, and counting Saturday’s collections, the total will surpass 3,000 coats. His charity efforts likely will continue in the Twin Cities, Morneau said, even if his career doesn’t.
So where will his career take him next?
“I’m open to anything,” said Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP. “We’ve been talking to a few teams. There are great opportunities out there.”
He’s had conversations lately with former Twins Joe Nathan, Nick Punto and Michael Cuddyer, he said, the latter putting in a word for the Colorado Rockies, rumored to be in pursuit of Minnesota’s third-leading career home-run leader.
He’s dropped in on a current Twin, too — the one whose recent position change, Morneau conceded, might crowd him out of the Twins’ current plans. Morneau visited Joe Mauer last month, and recognized the frustration the Twins’ catcher-turned-first-baseman was having over the lingering effects of a concussion.
“The uncertainty, that’s the hardest part,” Morneau said. “It’s just a frustrating time when you’re not sure you feel good a couple of days. I went through it, he went through it a little bit. Hopefully he’s past it now and he doesn’t have to deal with it again for the rest of his career.”
That concussion convinced Mauer to give up catching and take Morneau’s old position, a move the ex-teammate endorses.
“He’s such a good athlete, he can play everywhere. It kind of affects whether I’m going to come back, [but] moving to first will give him an opportunity to play every single day. He’s the most important piece on that team. To risk him getting hurt again doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s the right move in the long run, and hopefully it allows him to play another 10 years if he wants to. And I get to sit in the front row when they send him into the Hall of Fame.”