Justin Morneau never played in a playoff game at Target Field, and he spent his last 3½ seasons as a Twin trying to overcome the concussion that interrupted his reign as one of baseball’s best hitters.
The celebrity marriage of Target Field’s inviting right field wall and Morneau’s powerful swing was annulled by a knee to the head in July 2010. If he had avoided injury, Morneau would have become a candidate for a statue outside the ballpark’s limestone walls.
On Thursday, Morneau lost an opportunity to play for the National League All-Stars at Target Field, but was added to the Home Run Derby. It’s a half-measure that is better than none.
The prodigious son returns, in an appearance that, for Minnesotans, could trump Derek Jeter playing in his last All-Star Game.
Morneau should be here. That is the way All-Star Games are supposed to work. They are supposed to conjure emotions. They are supposed to place Tony Gwynn and Ted Williams near the Fenway Park mound as all of Boston stands and cheers, and they are supposed to allow Cal Ripken to shift from shortstop to third base before the first pitch of his last appearance.
Glen Perkins will play in an All-Star Game in his home state. Jeter will tip his cap in Minnesota for the last time. Morneau will say hello again, a season after being robbed of the chance to say goodbye.
If this were a perfect world, there are a few other former Twins who would toe the foul line, or at least shake a few hands, on Tuesday.
Kirby Puckett should be here.
The most popular Twin ever woke up blind in his right eye on March 28, 1996. He never played again. He died less than 10 years later after suffering a stroke.
Before being stricken with glaucoma, Puckett had for the first time undertaken an offseason conditioning program. He was a great player in his prime who expressed his determination to extend his effectiveness, and his career. In one game that spring, he lined a single off of Greg Maddux, then called him “Picasso” from the basepaths.
Puckett reveled in the company of other great players. At Hall of Fame gatherings in Cooperstown, he would even sing a pitch-perfect version of “It’s a Wonderful World,” bringing down the house. His voice will be missed next week.
Harmon Killebrew should be here.
The Killer passed in 2011. People who work at the Hall of Fame described him as one of the two nicest Hall of Famers they had ever encountered, along with Brooks Robinson.
He became a gentle soul and a willing storyteller. He should be here advising the participants in the Home Run Derby how to hit one onto First Avenue.
A.J. Pierzynski should be here.
He drove the Twins crazy while becoming one of their most important players. He drove the Giants crazy, and they dumped him. He drove the White Sox crazy even as he helped them win a title. He drove the Red Sox so crazy they dumped him this week.
I believe the DH should be a part of the game, and Pierzynski is an All-Star Designated Heckler.
Torii Hunter should be here.
Hunter always wanted to play on a grass field in Minnesota. He’s having a reasonably productive season for a 38-year-old outfielder, although his statistics are nowhere near All-Star caliber this season.
All-Star Games are stages, and Hunter remains the Twins’ best showman of the past 18 years.
The perpetually flawed system of selecting All-Stars has given us rosters featuring Ricky Bones, Cesar Izturis and Mike Williams, faux stars all.
Based on his contributions to the Twins, his status as one of the game’s most eager ambassadors, and his longstanding excellence, Hunter should be here on Tuesday, standing along the first-base line, nodding toward Morneau.