Posted at 10:18 PM on June 27, 2006
by David Zingler
On May 3, Justin Morneau was hitting .214 and reaching base at a .275 clip, but he told us he'd be "all right". Coming off a disappointing 2005 season, there was reason to doubt the young first baseman (admit it, you know you did). In the last month with however, he's made legions of believers.
"I am having better at-bats, feeling better at the plate, we've been hitting as a team and there's been guys on base - that kind of stuff," Morneau explained.
Many in the media have explained Morneau's transformation by pointing out his new found tendency to hit the ball to the opposite field. He however, dismisses that logic, "When I am seeing the ball well, that's what I do," he commented. "When I am not seeing the ball well, I foul balls off and get in the hole. The only thing that is different (during this stretch) is my average. My RBIs have been there all year and my homeruns have been decent, (but) they've been a little better this month."
Morneau did however, credit new hitting coach Joe Vavra for playing a part in his recent success. "He's always positive, keeps it simple, keeps track of each guy, puts you into a routine and gets you feeling comfortable," the young slugger said of the rookie coach. "I knew him (from the minors), so I was comfortable with him coming in, he knows his stuff and, obviously, I am pretty happy with the way it's going right now."
Although he's aware his latest power surge has moved him high up the league's homerun and RBI leader boards, Morneau says he isn't one to comb over his statistics. "I look when (the stats) are on the screen here," he admitted, "but it doesn't matter what you're doing (individually), what matters if you are in the playoff race or not."
Sitting with 19 homeruns, 63 RBI and a suddenly solid .281 batting average, the big Canadian is suddenly receiving some late All Star consideration. "Yeah sure," he responded, when asked if he thinks about the showcase game. "I am in a tough competition, (it's in) a National League park and they don't have to deal with the DH. It's nice to be thought of (though), last year there wasn't any talk of it. Maybe next year - if I don't make it this year...there'll be a little more (recognition) and I'll find a way to get there. That's more personal stuff though - individual recognition - right now all we?re worried about is catching the Tigers and White Sox."
Last spring Morneau and Joe Mauer were prematurely tabbed the new "M&M Boys", but this year both are doing their best to validate that seemingly unfair comparison. Along with their strong play, the two are roommates al la Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle in 1961.
Although you won't catch the pair whistling the "Andy Griffith" theme song, Morneau says the two young stars lead a fairly bland lifestyle, "Our house is pretty boring, we don't really do a whole lot," he explained. "We just pretty much get up, come to the park, go home, watch TV and go to bed. On an off day we'll have a BBQ or something, but it's nothing (real exciting)."
He went on to add that their house was "pretty clean", but gave the credit for that to the maid. "When we go on the road and come back it's clean," the first baseman laughed.
One thing the maid won't touch right now is his hat. Not wanting to tinker with the cosmic forces behind the Twins strong play this month, Morneau has allowed his headwear to reach a near toxic level, "It smells," he confessed. "It is starting to smell like my hockey jersey, (but) I won't change it now, that's for sure. Not because of me (though), because of the team...I am kind of superstitious about little things like that."
There are some more adult concerns in the back of Morneau's mind, however. Because he has been designated as a "Super 2" player (he is in the top 17% in service time among players with under 3 years of major league experience), the budding star is eligible for arbitration at season's end and will likely receive a substantial raise from his current $385,000 salary. But don't ask him about that right now, "We'll cross that bridge when we get there," Morneau bluntly stated. "We still have three months left in the season."