Posted at 9:53 AM on September 29, 2005
by David Zingler
It's no secret that Justin Morneau's first full big league has not gone as well as expected. He, better than anyone, knows that. "I am not doing what everyone expected me to do," the Twins first baseman bluntly commented. "Whatever numbers everyone else put out there, I had (no control of). I said before the year started that my only goal was to get back to the playoffs. We didn't do that."
He's heard the criticism, felt the heat and, although it hasn't always been easy, remained positive. "Obviously my confidence is not what it could be, but I try not to worry about that kind of stuff. I just try to have good at-bats and not let (the bad) stuff carry over. I've struggled more than I'd like to, but I've learned from it, I am learning from it and I will be better for it next year."
Here's something else positive that even he wasn't aware of: At age 24, Morneau has more career homeruns than Rafael Palmeiro, Jim Thome, Jeff Bagwell and Richie Sexson. "That's pretty good," he shrugged with a slight smile when learning of that fact. "Those guys have hit a lot of homeruns."
After smacking 19 homers in just 280 at bats last season, most observers thought that it was a forgone conclusion that he would become the first Twin in nearly two decades to reach the 30-homerun plateau. Stuck at 21, it won't happen. Thus, we are left looking for answers.
The frustration began last winter when the British Columbia native endured bouts of appendicitis, chicken pox, pleurisy and pneumonia. As a result, he was unable to build up the proper stamina. "The biggest thing for me this year is that I didn't have a full winter to work out -- I got weak," he explained. "The first month (of the season), I was fine, but after that my body started to get tired. That's when I lost a lot of confidence and started doing things I normally don�t do at the plate...this year I just want to be healthy, get weight lifting in for a good three months before spring training."
Since the Twins haven't had a power hitter for so long, they aren't quite sure how to handle one. With no veteran power presence to act as a mentor and offer protection in the line-up, Morneau has sometimes looked lost. "Losing (Corey) Koskie was big for me this year," the struggling slugger pointed out. "He is a big left-handed hitter similar to myself, he had good at-bats and I could learn from him. He was somebody that I looked up to and who took care of me a lot. That is the biggest difference this year for me -- not having him around. A guy like that - everyone could feed off of his at-bats. He was a leader. He was hurt a lot, but played and battled."
To his credit, Morneau has been resourceful, seeking the advice of accomplished opponents. "I talked to (Kansas City's Mike) Sweeney (on Tuesday) after my first at bat when he was on first base," he commented. "Just to have a guy like that to talk to, that's been through it, makes a difference for everyone else."
The fact that he's been playing with bone spurs in his left elbow for over half the season hasn't helped either, "(It hurts) every time I swing," Morneau confessed. "I had an MRI...it didn't show too much, but I am having one on my forearm (today) to see if anything is there."
While the reasons for his disappointing season range from bad luck to organizational ineptitude, the bulk of the responsibility lies on squarely Morneau's young shoulders. Theories such from coach-ability to immaturity have been floated, but you get the sense concentration may be an issue.
"The thing is that is so frustrating is that day to day, at-bat to at-bat -- I feel different," he said with a hint of resignation. "My first at-bat I will see the ball great, feel good and then I will get up there the next at-bat and for some reason I don't see it as well. That's been the most frustrating thing."