Twins Insider: Ripken, Morneau get chance to talk ball

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 14, 2007 - 3:34 PM

Justin Morneau took a break at the All-Star Game to pick the brain of soon-to-be Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, who like the Twins star won an MVP at an early age.

SAN FRANCISCO — The moment seemed suspended in time — Justin Morneau and Cal Ripken Jr., just sitting there talking. And talking. And talking.

Baseball's annual Home Run Derby was in full swing Tuesday. Morneau had taken his first-round cuts and was waiting as the other seven contestants took theirs, in between commercial breaks.

At one point, the scoreboard at AT&T Park flashed a video tribute to Ripken, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame later this month. He looked up, acknowledged the cheering fans, and went right back to his conversation with the Twins first baseman.

"It was really cool," Morneau said. "That's why I just sat there on the field, asking him questions. If he wants to talk, he can talk as much as he wants."

The conversation itself was nothing Earth-shattering. But it was another sign, among many during the All-Star festivities, of how much the little Twins are growing up.

Morneau was mixing with Hall of Famers. Johan Santana was bombarded by interview requests, especially from Spanish media outlets. And Torii Hunter, who answered every reporter's question with a smile, entrenched himself as a national media favorite.

The Twins haven't held the All-Star spotlight like this since Kirby Puckett was making his annual appearances. This year, it seemed everyone wanted time with them, even Ripken.

Besides baseball, there is no obvious connection between Morneau and Ripken. One is American, the other Canadian. One played shortstop, the other first base.

But they do have one thing in common: Both won Most Valuable Player awards in their second full big league seasons.

Ripken reached the majors in August 1981, won Rookie of the Year honors in 1982, and was named the MVP in 1983, at age 23. He won another MVP award in 1991.

Morneau, 26, won his MVP last season after a tough 2005 with the Twins. At times, the beginning of this season felt more like 2005 than 2006. But Morneau entered the weekend batting .296 with 25 home runs and 75 RBI.

"I told him I was struggling a bit early," Morneau said. "And he just said, 'Don't compare your numbers from year to year. Just go out and play well and that stuff will take care of itself.' "

Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's seemingly unbreakable record and played in 2,632 consecutive games. Morneau got a small taste of what that takes, playing in 191 consecutive games before bruising a lung in a home plate collision at Florida last month.

Morneau smiled at the absurdity of stretching that streak into Ripken territory, or even Miguel Tejada territory. The current Orioles shortstop had his streak end at 1,152 games last month.

"One of my goals for the year -- it's kind of a dumb goal -- but I wanted to play every game," Morneau said. "You have to stay healthy, which is amazing how they did that for that long without doing something where they couldn't play. They played hurt a lot but then something freak thing happens [to Tejada], like a broken wrist."

But the conversation wasn't about streaks or MVP awards or any of that. So what did Ripken and Morneau talk about?

"He was one of those players I always loved because he was always messing around with his [batting] stance," Morneau said. "So I just kind of asked him about that. He said he just tried doing different stuff depending on how he felt."

And that night, with plenty of time to kill during the derby, Ripken felt like having a half-hour chat with Morneau.

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