Posted at 1:00 PM on September 29, 2008
by David Zingler
The Twins have played 162 games and there is still more to come. Although Justin Morneau had a very forgettable weekend at the plate, the slugging first baseman remains a top contender for for his second AL MVP.
The 27-year-old took some time out on Friday to discuss the 2008 season as he was getting geared up for the pivotal series against the Royals.
DZ: You guys are in a great position now, but it hasn't been the smoothest of rides. With all of the late losses, what kept your spirits up, what kept you motivated?
MORNEAU: We never quit. We always believed we could contend for a playoff spot. We always believed we could win this division and there's no reason to stop playing until they tell you, "you are done." We've had a chance all year; we've taken advantage of most of our opportunities.
DZ: What's it been like seeing the young guys like Span and Gomez come up and pick this team up?
MORNEAU: It's been great. They've contributed all year. Since Denard came up and has been in the lead off spot, he's been great. Gomez early was big for us. Casilla - you look at all of the guys - everybody contributed a big part this whole season.
DZ: Span has been in big league camp the past couple of years, did you see this in him or were you surprised?
MORNEAU: The improvement from last spring to this spring was beyond anyone else that I saw in camp. He was probably the most improved guy - he worked hard, he matured a lot this year coming in and he was ready to go and he wanted to win that job. He was as close to making the team as anybody could have been. It's good to see him get a chance and it's good to see him take advantage of it.
DZ: I know you're going to say you're not thinking about this, but you're in the MVP discussion again. After you've won one, does it make it a little easier to deal with?
MORNEAU: Ah...that stuff is what it is - you can't help it. If you're playing well and people are noticing, that's a good thing. I don't think about it too much, the only thing I'm concerned with is making it to the playoffs.
DZ: It's got to be pretty cool hearing the fans chant "MVP" when you're up to bat.
MORNEAU: Yeah. It's nice; it's a compliment from them if they feel that way. It's an honor - it's pretty cool. At the same time, I try and block it out; I try to stay focused on what I am doing. It's kind of hard (laughs) - it's an honor, that's for sure.
DZ: Looking at your numbers, your walks are up; your strikeouts are down - is that just you maturing as a hitter or is there something you work on specifically.
MORNEAU: It's just knowing the pitchers and knowing the strike zone a little bit better and having more confidence if I get behind in the count, I am still going to be all right. I try to get my pitch more often...hopefully that continues to improve the rest of my career.
DZ: The homeruns are down a little bit, the doubles are way up - the RBI are still there. Is the difference between hitting a double and a homerun just a matter of getting under the ball?
MORNEAU: I think I've become more of a line drive hitter. If you hit the ball up in the air in left field or left center, it's pretty much caught. I've concentrated on not hitting the ball up in the air that way and hitting line drives. Obviously, I'd like to hit more homeruns, but I can't complain about the year I've had so far.
DZ: With Hunter and Santana leaving before this year, you've stepped up and become one of the leaders. What's that role been like?
MORNEAU: I try to set an example for the younger guys - show up early everyday, stay late and work hard. It's running out ground balls every time and just doing little things - trying to stay positive. I am not trying to preach to guys or anything like that - (I) just try to lead by example. We have quite a few guys in here who are leaders and hopefully the guys look up to me as being one of those.
DZ: A lot of people forget you were drafted as a catcher (and then was moved to first base after elbow surgery in the minor leagues), could you get behind the plate if something crazy happened?
MORNEAU: Yeah, I could get back there for a couple of innings. I caught from the time I was 6-years-old until I was drafted, I loved catching. They moved me - it allows me to play everyday, my body doesn't get beat up - Joe took 4 or 5 foul tips and got hit with a broken bat last night. I don't miss that part of it, but I miss being in control of the game. I think I could go back there - I might not be able to walk the next day - but I think I could go back there for a couple of innings.
DZ: You played goalie (in hockey) too, did you just like the equipment? When you're a kid that stuff is pretty cool.
MORNEAU: With goalie, the reason I (played it) was that I liked the pads and the glove. With catcher, I don't know what it was; I was always drawn to it. Maybe it's because the whole play is in front of you, kind of like a goalie - you feel like you can control it somehow.
DZ: You have the wedding coming up; do you have any teammates in the wedding party?
MORNEAU: Yeah. I think Joe's going to be in it, other than that it's going to be people I grew up with, friends from home...It's a pretty big wedding party.
DZ: I am guessing that you've been pretty busy and aren't too involved in the planning process - you're letting your fiancé handle that.
MORNEAU: (smiles) I've made a lot of great decisions.
DZ: It's best to stay out of it.
DZ: A lot of guys around here are having kids, you're getting married, is that something you are thinking about doing anytime soon?
MORNEAU: Eventually, but not any time soon. We are going to enjoy life, enjoy being in the big leagues, enjoy being together and then when it comes time, hopefully we'll be able to do it.
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
See more of David Zingler's interviews with Twins players:
September 28: Bobby Korecky
September 26: Michael Cuddyer
September 25: Kevin Slowey
September 24: Jason Kubel
September 11: Denard Span
September 10: Mike Redmond
August 21: Randy Ruiz
August 20: Glen Perkins
August 12: Matt Guerrier
August 1: Nick Punto
July 31: Justin Morneau
July 30: Scott Baker
June 30: Brian Bass
June 27: Brian Buscher
June 18: Matt Macri
June 6: Craig Breslow
June 4: Michael Cuddyer
May 25: Nick Punto & Mike Redmond
May 20: Justin Morneau
May 1: Nick Blackburn
April 29: Brendan Harris
April 20: Jason Kubel
April 17: Denard Span
April 2: Matt Tolbert
Interesting article and excellent writing. Justin seems to be a real down to earth guy.