Jim Souhan: Amid malingerers, two athletes are standing out by stepping up

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 5, 2011 - 1:26 AM

In their own way, Justin Morneau and Christian Ponder took responsibility where so many others chose not to.

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I was going to write a column today, but I missed my flight, and lost my phone, and got wrapped up in a rerun of "Trailer Park Boys," and who could blame me for taking the rest of the week off?

Then I was going to write for the Star Tribune website, but I had trouble getting my fingers loose, so I decided it would be best for my career if I only wrote for the newspaper.

The millionaire ballplayers on our two most prominent teams need to develop a work ethic, a conscience or a better set of excuses. Many of them failed to distinguish themselves over the last couple of weeks.

Vikings veterans Bernard Berrian (missed flight) and Percy Harvin (lost phone) couldn't quite make it to the passing camp run by rookie quarterback Christian Ponder.

Twins pitcher Kevin Slowey decided he couldn't bring himself to pitch out of the bullpen for a team desperate for competent relievers, and Joe Mauer eased himself into catching duties in Fort Myers while his replacements proved that the newspaper industry is still alive, evidenced by the wet, rolled-up sports sections they swing at the plate.

This is a slacker summer for the two most important teams in town. The lockout has given Vikings players a lengthy vacation that many of them seem intent on extending, and the most disappointing season in Twins history has given individual players reason to seek the comfort of the disabled list.

Amid all of this silliness, two players have distinguished themselves in ways that no statistic will ever measure.

Ponder could be basking on beaches or playing the role of Big Man on Campus in Tallahassee for one last summer. Instead, he is working out with former Cretin-Derham Hall quarterback Chris Weinke.

This week, Ponder invited key Vikings veterans to join him, in an effort to learn the new playbook and develop the kind of chemistry that could make Ponder's rookie season, and the Vikings' season, successful.

Instead, Ponder is learning that the Vikings have no idea how to react to a quarterback who shows up early. They're much more comfortable waiting for helicopters to roar over Winter Park in August, signaling the arrival of Lord Favre.

While Ponder attempts to display the kind of leadership required of a young quarterback, Justin Morneau refuses to succumb to the kind of selfishness that has helped destroy his team.

Three months ago, no one knew how much Morneau would play this season. He seemed perpetually worried about the lingering effects of the concussion that ended his 2010 season, and the Twins planned to rest him regularly early in the year.

Instead, Morneau has used neither his concussion nor lingering problems with his neck as excuses for his lack of production or to escape the rigors of the daily lineup, even during a season in which his best efforts may prove inadequate or meaningless.

The other day, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire told Morneau he should go on the disabled list until he's healthy. Morneau refused, though Gardenhire did give him a break Saturday night. Had Morneau taken the easy way out, he may have given himself an excuse for his struggles this season.

As the Twins have spiraled, the leadership in their clubhouse has come into question.

Ponder and Morneau remind us that the best method of leadership is diligence.

Rousing locker-room speeches make for good sports movies, but most of them fail. Only those that succeed become famous, and players-only meetings are often the death rattle of a lost season.

The Twins don't need more speeches. They need more grinders; more players like Morneau who play even when playing is not pleasant or convenient.

While the Twins implode, the Vikings are coming off a season in which many of their key players emulated Favre's selfishness and lax offseason work habits. Ponder's efforts to lure them onto a field are admirable, but he'll probably need Seal Team 6 and Dog The Bounty Hunter to get Harvin to a workout on time.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2:40 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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