Souhan: Morneau appreciates his chance at a championship

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 3, 2013 - 11:11 AM

Though the goodbyes were difficult, Justin Morneau appreciates joining a pennant race with his new team.

They were linked by an ampersand, then matching MVP awards. The M&M Boys hung out together on the road, married St. Paul girls and acted as groomsmen in each other’s weddings.

On the day Justin Morneau left the Twins, Joe Mauer wasn’t around. There were no tears, no lingering man-hugs. Morneau is grateful his best friend in baseball didn’t have to see him packing his bag for the last time as a Twin.

“I think I was lucky he wasn’t in Texas that day,” Morneau said Monday, when his new team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, beat the Milwaukee Brewers 5-2 at Miller Park. “It was a little emotional, anyway, with a lot of the guys, but it would have been really difficult if he had been there.”

Saturday, the Twins traded Morneau to the Pirates. Morneau took the team bus to The Ballpark in Arlington, then flew to join the Pirates in Pittsburgh. Mauer was home in Minnesota, trying to recover from a concussion.

The two exchanged texts but didn’t speak until Sunday. At least one of the M&M Boys wasn’t happy about the trade.

“I talked to him [Sunday] and he’s frustrated with what happened,” Morneau said. “But at the same time, I think he’s happy that I get to come into a situation where I get to compete in a pennant race, because he knows that’s what we play for.”

Morneau was asked to elaborate on Mauer’s frustration.

“I think he’s frustrated with everything,” Morneau said. “It’s been a frustrating couple of years for everybody — for Terry, Gardy, myself, Joe. People who have high expectations.

“It’s been weird without him the last couple of weeks, driving to the ballpark by myself. It’s a pretty young clubhouse. It’s a little different.”

When Morneau spoke about his close relationships in the Twins clubhouse, he repeated the same names — Mauer, GM Terry Ryan and manager Ron Gardenhire. When asked what he regrets about his tenure with the Twins, Morneau said he wanted to help the team win a World Series.

With the Pirates, he has been reunited with former Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano on a team that should make the playoffs.

“You leave the only place you’ve ever known, but you come to a pennant race, and the reason everybody plays this game is to try and win a World Series,” Morneau said. “We came here to try and do that, so I can’t look at that as anything but a positive. At the same time, I have a lot of friends and family and long relationships in Minnesota. I have to leave for a little bit but there’s nothing that says I won’t ever be back there. It’s a new chapter, I think. There are a lot of positives, but it was tough leaving the only pace I’ve ever known.”

Morneau was sitting at his locker before the game. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle brought him copies of the Sunday lineup card. They chatted about Morneau’s family traveling from Minnesota to see the Milwaukee series. Hurdle asked the names of Morneau’s wife and children.

With the Twins, Morneau had felt like part of the family. He had matured from a single kid who liked to drink a lot of beer into a player who took his status in the organization and in the Twin Cities quite seriously.

Asked what he wants his Twins legacy to be, Morneau said: “I think it’s kind of weird the way it worked out, that on Friday I hit a home run to pass Tony Oliva on the team list,” he said. “The numbers don’t speak for everything. I’m as proud of what I did off the field as what I did on it.

“I’m proud that you never saw my name in a DUI report or a bar fight. I was able to try and make a difference in the community and be a good role model. I don’t think I understood that early in my career, that as much as I didn’t want to be or think I was one, you learn that it’s a responsibility for all of us.”

Morneau is an uncommonly reflective athlete. Asked whether he has regrets about his Twins career, he sounded more disappointed about what happened before his career-changing concussion in 2010 than after it.

“Not winning a World Series would be No. 1,” he said. “The injuries, though, really helped me appreciate the game. Obviously, I enjoyed the game before, but I had never really struggled before, and to come back and to battle through everything and be able to come back and play, and to just enjoy the game is something that gave me a different perspective.

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