Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of Sunday stories leading up to the All-Star Game.
DENVER – It bothers him still.
Nine months have passed, and everyone has gotten on with life. Justin Morneau’s old position has been filled by his oldest friend in baseball. His locker in the far corner of the Twins clubhouse, closest to the food as he once joked, is now occupied by Josh Willingham. Morneau himself has worn two different uniforms since the Twins traded him last August, and he has settled in just fine in his new home.
The Minnesota chapter of his life has concluded — for everyone but Morneau. Like a hallway light still burning, like a window left ajar, the Colorado Rockies first baseman has a nagging feeling, even all these months later, that he’s left something undone back home in Minneapolis. He’s left something unspoken ... with you.
“That was something I want to do — to go back,” Morneau says. “You know, I never really had a chance to say goodbye,” to the Twins, the team’s employees and staff, and especially its No. 33-wearing fans. “Being traded when we were on the road, it wasn’t like it happened during a homestand.”
No, he left abruptly, dispatched suddenly to Pittsburgh while the Twins were in Texas, exiled to the National League with no way to thank his supporters for their 11 seasons of encouragement. Morneau, whose bemused demeanor disguises his sensitive nature, wrote a heartfelt note to the city that day and distributed it to Minnesota reporters, but it felt unsatisfying and impersonal, like breaking up via text message.
Rockies fans have made him feel welcome and appreciated this season, but “I don’t know if I’ll ever have that relationship with anyone” like he did with Twins fans, Morneau says. “I was there for so long. They saw me grow up. There’s a special relationship there.”
The schedule-makers are no help. The Rockies and Twins are in different leagues, so Colorado has no annual appointment in the Twin Cities. By coincidence, the teams are actually scheduled to meet next month, but in Coors Field, a time zone away. A Colorado-Minnesota series in Target Field is probably three years away, at minimum.
What a shame. If only there was some event, some special occasion, that could reunite the Canadian slugger this summer with his adopted hometown. Some function that would provide him a stage to express his gratitude, and vice versa.
Hey, wait a minute ...
“That’d be something, wouldn’t it?” Joe Mauer says, grinning at the notion of his old pal, the other half of the Twins’ M&M Boys, standing along Target Field’s third-base line on July 15 and being introduced as a National League All-Star. “I’m sure he’d get some pretty amazing cheers, pretty loud, every time he stepped to the plate.”
Yeah, it’s occurred to Morneau, too. “It would be a dream come true,” he says. “It would be a really cool situation. I guess I’m the only one who can really control that.”
He’s doing a pretty great job of it so far. Morneau, whose age now matches the 33 on his back, has batted above .300 for most of the season, until a 1-for-18 slump heading into the weekend cooled him off. He remains almost exactly on pace, however, to equal the 30-homer, 100-RBI levels that he reached in 2009, the last time he played in an All-Star Game. The long uppercut swing, with the hands-over-helmet follow-through that became so familiar in the Metrodome, is back and connecting with errant fastballs again.
Morneau has the look of an All-Star once more, though he understands the field is a crowded one. “You look at the lineup of guys — [Paul] Goldschmidt, [Joey] Votto, Adrian Gonzalez — and you look at the years some guys are having already, it’s tough competition,” Morneau says, sizing up his chances. “To be up with those guys, it’d be a lot of fun. But if my whole goal is to put up numbers and get there, that’s when I’m going to get away from what I’m trying to do, and that’s just trying to contribute every day. Show up and do my job, and hopefully that will be good enough. We’ll see.”
His career marker