DENVER – Justin Morneau wasn’t going to do it. He was going to stay home and not participate in the Home Run Derby.
“I said if I was in the game I would like to do it,” the Colorado first baseman said Friday, before the former Twins star faced his old team for the first time. “I’m not sure how I would feel if I wasn’t in the game. Being there while not being selected, it would be one of those hard things to take. Maybe it would have been a pride thing or something else.”
His wife, Krista, warned him of a different feeling he would have if he didn’t return to the town where he played for 11 years and was American League MVP in 2006.
“My wife told me I would probably regret it if I was offered the chance and not do it,” he said. “The kids will remember it. And that’s one of the main reasons why, the family, the friends and all that stuff.”
He also will be able to acknowledge a fanbase he said was great to him through the years. Morneau took out ads in Twin Cities newspapers when he was traded to Pittsburgh last August, thanking fans for their support.
Monday, he’s looking forward to looking around Target Field and tipping his cap to them.
“That will be special,” he said. “Everyone will be there for the event, they won’t be there for me and I understand that. But it will be special for me to look around and see everybody and see all those familiar faces. It will be special and I hope I do well.”
As for Friday’s game, Morneau admitted it was strange to look across the field at the Twins. While he spoke in the Rockies dugout, Trevor Plouffe and other former teammates waved at him from the other side of the field. Morneau was able to chat with pitching coach Rick Anderson, hitting coach Tom Brunansky and assistant trainer Tony Leo.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire hoped to speak to Morneau during the series.
“Spent a lot of good years with him,” Gardenhire said. “A very professional baseball player. Now our job is going to be to get him out and keep him in the ballpark here. It will be nice seeing him out on the baseball field.”
After suffering a concussion in the middle of the 2010 season, Moreau batted .256 with 40 homers and 184 RBI over his next 355 games. He signed a two-year, $16 million contract with the Rockies over the offseason and has rediscovered his swing.
He entered Friday batting .313 with 13 home runs and 59 RBI. He was sixth in the NL in batting average and tied for third in RBI. Coors Field has helped him, but not in terms of balls traveling farther.
Morneau looked out at the spacious outfield with its 390 foot power alley in left-center. He saw how deep the outfielders play and watched hits drop in all over the outfield. It has encouraged him to use the whole field more. He’s hitting more balls hard, and more balls are going over the fence because of it.
“If you do that you can drive in a lot of runs,” Morneau said. “And that’s what I pride myself in being, a run producer.”
That approach nearly had him voted onto the NL team through the annual final vote contest, but he lost out to the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo on Thursday. But it has also helped Morneau put up enough numbers to be brought back to Target Field for the Home Run Derby, an event he won in 2008 at the old Yankee Stadium.
On Monday, he will have to stop being a run producer — and take aim at First Avenue.
“I’m not a fortune teller or predictor,” he said, “but I’m going to try to hit ’em out to right field. That’s all I know.”
• Twins infielder Danny Santana (bone bruise left knee) headed to Fort Myers, Fla., on Friday for the next phase of his recovery. He will work out there and play with the Gulf Coast League rookie team and Class A Fort Myers. He likely will come off the disabled list after the All-Star break.
• Josh Willingham did not start Friday. Gardenhire wanted to rest him after a long night of travel from Seattle to Denver. Gardenhire almost kept Kurt Suzuki out for the same reason, but decided he needed offense.