Hartman: Morneau upbeat about his health

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 27, 2013 - 12:54 PM

The former AL MVP is feeling confident heading into the 2013 season.

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Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau.

Photo: Genevieve Ross, Associated Press

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Justin Morneau played in 134 games for the Twins last season, his most since 2009. While the 2006 American League MVP still had some injury problems and didn't produce like he had in the past, he was able to stay relatively healthy and put a lot of concerns behind him.

After the 2010 and 2011 seasons, when he played a total of 150 games because of a concussion and other injuries, was he concerned that his career might never be the same?

"I found out that I was good enough to go, and I was able to get through the whole year, which was nice," he said.

"It's one of those things where during the last offseason I did [have concerns]. But this offseason has been great, and I'm getting stronger and doing everything. Hopefully all of that stuff is behind me."

Morneau said he learned a great deal during the periods when he couldn't perform.

"Through the hard times I've learned to appreciate the good times," he said, "just being able to go out there every day and enjoy being part of the team and putting the uniform on. I'm not saying I didn't appreciate it before, but it just gives you a little bit extra appreciation when you have something taken away from you. You're able to enjoy it once you realize how much you miss it when it's gone."

The 31-year-old Twins slugger, who ranks sixth on the team's all-time home run list with 204, said he is miles ahead of where he was last year and the year before at this time.

"I've been able to participate in everything that I need to do to get ready for the season," said Morneau, coming off a season where he hit .267 with 19 homers and 77 RBI. "I've been hitting for about a month in the cage, and everything has been going good. It's an exciting time of the year as opposed to the last couple of years when it has sort of been questionable.

"There's nothing that bothers me. I mean, I feel as strong as I have any other year. Not to use the whole cliché of the best shape of my life or anything like that, but I feel strong, I feel healthy. I feel as good as I have most years when I've had a normal offseason. I think the years that I've managed to stay healthy are the best years that I've had. Hopefully this is one of those years. It's looking that way going in. Hopefully it stays that way."

Morneau said that early in his career he would look at the major league record books and not realize how healthy a player has to stay to reach those kind of numbers.

"As a young player you see these numbers, like 3,000 hits and all that stuff, and you think, 'That's a lot of hits,' " he said. "Then you play for eight or 10 or 12 years and you realize how impressive it is, what guys like Cal Ripken [Jr.] did, playing so many games in a row, or Derek Jeter with 3,200 hits, the things they've accomplished obviously has to do with their talent and success but also their health. To be able to stay healthy that long and play, that's an incredible feat also."

And, if Morneau can regain his MVP form, rest assured the Twins will be a lot more competitive than they have been the past two years. From 2006 to '09, Morneau hit .292 and averaged 30 home runs and 118 RBI. Since then he has hit .272 and averaged 14 home runs and 54 RBI. Luckily for Morneau and the Twins, the injuries appear to be behind him.

Failed to make big play

The Gophers were once 15-1, their only loss to powerful Duke, and everybody was predicting big things for Tubby Smith's team.

What has happened since is a mystery to Smith. The Gophers now leads the Big Ten in turnovers, and they have failed to make big plays. With the score tied in the final minute Saturday at Wisconsin, Andre Hollins was called for a charging foul with 39 second remaining. Then Rodney Williams missed a free throw that would have sent the game into overtime.

This has been the story in consecutive losses to Indiana, Michigan, Northwestern and Wisconsin: The Gophers beating themselves. The mystery is: What happened to the team that was 15-1?

Harbaugh had rough game at Dome

Jim Harbaugh, the second-year coach who has taken the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl, had one of his worst moments as a quarterback at the Metrodome when he was with the Chicago Bears in 1992.

The Bears had a 20-0 fourth-quarter lead when Harbaugh called an audible on coach Mike Ditka's play. The audible led to an interception return for a touchdown by Todd Scott, and the Vikings scored 21 unanswered points to win the game.

Ditka put on a scene when he took Harbauigh out of the game and afterward said: "If it happens again, there will be changes made, and they will be definite and they will be permanent. I'm not going to put 47 players' futures in the hands of one player who thinks he knows more than I do."

SID'S JOTTINGS

Former Vikings great Randy Moss, who caught 28 passes for 434 yards and three touchdowns for the 49ers this season, was asked by the San Francisco Chronicle if he will be back next year. "We'll know once the season's over, bro," he said. One person who wants to see him back is coach Jim Harbaugh. "For official publication, I, for one, definitely want Randy to come back," he said.

When I asked my friend Matt Birk, starting center for the AFC champion Baltimore Ravens, about any plans to retire after this season, he answered: "I don't know, when you get a little bit older, Sid, as you'll find out once you get a little bit older, everyone wants to try to predict when you're going to retire like it's some kind of big deal. I'm like you, Sid. Retirement is not for me."

In answer to rumors that Twins farm director Jim Rantz was asked to retire after 53 years with the team, Rantz, who on Thursday received the organization's highest honor, the Herb Carneal Lifetime Achievement Award, said: "I informed the club a year ago in December that this was going to be my last year."

Royce White, who reportedly is getting ready to return to the Houston Rockets while dealing with anxiety issues, told HBO's "Real Sports" that he wants to play in the NBA and that "I'm not going to accept [not playing] without a fight."

Former Timberwolves assistant Eric Musselman is having a big impact in his first year as an assistant at Arizona State. The Sun Devils are 4-2 in the Pacific-12 and 15-4 overall, after going 10-21 last season.

While everyone knows that DeLaSalle junior Reid Travis is being heavily recruited for basketball, the high school quarterback was just offered a football scholarship to Iowa, and his coach said that an offer from Wisconsin is soon to follow.

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