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TWINS AT SEATTLE Up next: 9:05 tonight at Seattle • Safeco Field • FSN • 1500-AM

Twins: Seattle, where it all began for Morneau in '06

  • Article by: La Velle E. Neal III
  • Star Tribune
  • April 16, 2007 - 10:40 PM

Seattle is one of the best eating towns in the country, with seemingly a superfluous amount of seafood and the opportunity to ship home the catch of the day.

Safeco Field is considered one of the finest ballparks in baseball, where you can gaze at the downtown skyline from one side of the stadium and peek out at Puget Sound from the other.

And Vancouver, British Columbia, is not a long drive away, a place some consider the most beautiful city in North America. It's also the home area of Twins slugger Justin Morneau.

Returning to the Pacific Northwest has been an adventure for Morneau, who has left as many as 60 tickets for friends and family.

"I like the park. It's nice and is a good place to play. Good atmosphere," said Morneau, who along with his Twins teammates begins a three-game series at Seattle tonight. "And it feels like home. On the water, all that kind of stuff. It's more good than bad to go there."

There have been times when Morneau might not have made that statement.

It started well enough, with the first baseman producing his first two-homer game at Seattle on Aug. 12, 2004, after a late-season callup to the majors. Morneau hit a pair of two-run homers off Mariners righthander Ryan Franklin in a 6-3 Twins victory.

"My buddies were in left field; they were all sitting out there," Morneau said. "They said that if I hit a home run, they were all going to have a beer. So I hit a home run and they all stood up and they said they all had a beer. Then I hit another one. They were loving it."

Morneau made the team out of spring training the next season, and the Twins opened the season at Seattle.

Morneau was 0-for-4 with a strikeout in the first game.

He went 3-for-5 with an RBI in the second game.

He was 1-for-3 in the third game when a Ron Villone pitch struck him in the head and sent him to the disabled list.

He hit well for a while after coming off the disabled list but batted .211 after the All-Star break. He had spent the previous offseason recovering from appendicitis, chicken pox, pleurisy and pneumonia. Then came the beaning.

"That offseason had been brutal," he said. "I came back and was good for like a month, then all of sudden I was tired and was worn down and I started trying to do too much and my elbow was bugging me."

Morneau's first visit to Seattle in 2006 proved to be a turning point in his MVP season. He came to Seattle and left with a .235 average on June 8, a series during which he spent plenty of time with his buddies. Too much time for some Twins officials.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire noticed and gave Morneau a wake-up talk about not wasting his considerable talent. Morneau realized he needed to reprioritize, which meant more preparation and less fraternization with his buddies.

"I know I was brutal at the plate," Morneau said. "There was so much going on. I just have to learn how to block it out and just go play. If people can't understand that's what you're there to do, then whatever, they don't understand."

Over the remaining 104 games, the Twins were 71-33, overcoming a slow start to win the AL Central. Morneau batted .362 with 22 homers and 92 RBI during the stretch.

What happened? Morneau embraced repetition -- some teammates say it's also a little superstition -- as he figured out a daily routine that persists. He gets to the park around 1:45 p.m., eats a sandwich and has a yogurt. He gets loose, does some early batting cage work, grabs a drink and then joins the team for pregame work.

He also likes his macaroni and cheese and sometimes has teammate Nick Punto whip up a mix of a Slurpee and Mountain Dew. Except for the Slurpee Dews, the routine doesn't change.

Outfielder Michael Cuddyer even said Morneau says the same thing to him on the top steps of the dugout before each game.

"He says, 'Let's see what kind of energy we've got tonight,' " Cuddyer said. "I just want him to mix it up and say something like, 'How about we see what kind of energy we have tonight.' "

Morneau took a low point in Seattle and made it into a jumping-off point. The only thing Morneau might change this trip in is how long he sees his buddies. His ticket list this week is in the 30s.

"I'm not going to get pulled around in 100 different directions." he said.

Gardenhire believes Morneau has come a long way since the talk.

"I think the big thing with young players is to first realize that you're not as focused as you should be," Gardenhire said, "And I think, honestly, once he realized what needed to be done to be successful, he ran with it. He just took off and ran with it."

La Velle E. Neal III • lneal@startribune.com

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