ARLINGTON, TEXAS – There was the macaroni and cheese he insisted upon eating before every game early in his career. There was the gray Vancouver Canucks T-shirt he wore under his uniform every day, even after it had long since become threadbare and tattered. There was his strict postgame weightlifting ritual, the way he always waved Joe Mauer around third during batting practice, and his decision once during a winning streak to watch “Slap Shot” every day for good luck.
Justin Morneau “is the most superstitious guy I’ve ever played with,” Twins closer Glen Perkins, a teammate of Morneau since 2006, said Saturday, shortly after saying goodbye to the Twins’ undisputed clubhouse leader. “He had a lot of stuff like that, especially if we won. ... I’ll miss that.”
A lot of people will miss the Canadian slugger, beginning with the only major league manager Morneau has ever played for. After saying goodbyes in the clubhouse Saturday, Morneau walked into Ron Gardenhire’s office, and “I told him I didn’t want any long goodbyes because I can’t handle that,” the manager said. “I just told him I appreciate everything he’s done here. We’ve been together a long time. And that’s a hard thing.”
Hard for Morneau, too, Perkins said. “He seemed like he was in shock,” the closer said. “He said he was just trying to figure everything out.”
Funny thing is, helping ballplayers figure things out was sort of a Morneau specialty.
“Morneau is one of those guys who really taught me how to carry myself up here at this level,” said relief pitcher Brian Duensing, a teammate for the past five seasons. “How to go about my business, how to be a good teammate, what it takes to win. So it’s disappointing to see him go.”
Morneau had discussed the possibility of re-signing with the Twins, even if he was traded away, but Duensing said he realized “the chances of that don’t seem very high.” Still, he said: “I want to play with him again. He’s a great teammate. I like to be around him. I hope it happens. I know there are a lot of fans out there who are sad to see him go.”
And lots who have Morneau to thank. The native of New Westminster, British Columbia, adopted the Twin Cities as his second home, and created a foundation, with his wife, Krista, to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to Minnesota charities. He held an annual Casino Night to raise money and visibility for those efforts, too.
“He’s just one of the good guys in the game. A good human being that’s involved and committed to the community,” said General Manager Terry Ryan. “He’s in the community. He’s been a model citizen.”
Now he will be a Pittsburghian, at least for the next couple of months, and the fact that injuries and the Twins’ sagging fortunes have kept him from playing a postseason game since 2006 makes his new situation the one bright spot about his departure, the Twins said.
“The only good part of it for me is he’s going into a pennant race. I’m very excited to see him be able to do that,” Gardenhire said. “I’ll definitely be rooting for Morneau.”
“To go to a city like that, where they’ve struggled for 20 years now, he’s going to get to be part of something pretty special for them. I think he was excited for that,” Perkins said. “I’m sure it’s bittersweet, but when it all comes down to it, he’ll be pretty happy there.”
And the Twins will go on without his charming idiosyncrasies.
“Last night after the game [which Perkins saved], he just said, ‘Good fastballing. Good job with the fastball,’ ” Perkins said. “It’s so cool that he hit a home run. What a way to go out.”