Final Vote win would send Morneau 'home' to Minnesota
Veteran first baseman could say goodbye to longtime fans at All-Star Game
DENVER -- Justin Morneau has been an All-Star four times.
Morneau even won the Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium in 2008. And in the Midsummer Classic the next night, he scored the winning run for the American League in the 15th inning.
As nice as the memories of the past are, going to the All-Star Game again this year, Morneau admits, would be special.
Morneau is behind Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo in the 2014 All-Star Game Final Vote Sponsored by Experian for the last spot on the National League team. If he winds up overtaking Rizzo and beating the other three other candidates, it means Morneau would get to return to Minnesota, where he spent his entire big league career until he was traded to Pittsburgh last August.
And it would give Morneau a chance to say goodbye to fans who were so special to him, but who have not had a chance to see him since he was dealt on Aug. 30 last year while the Twins were on a road trip in Texas.
Morneau, who played 1,278 games over 11 seasons with the Twins, did buy a full-page add in both the Minneapolis Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press to thank the fans. But that's not the same as saying it in person. It's not the same as seeing the fans who were supportive of him.
Final Vote candidates
|P||Dallas Keuchel, HOU|
|P||Corey Kluber, CLE|
|P||Rick Porcello, DET|
|P||Garrett Richards, LAA|
|P||Chris Sale, CWS|
|1B||Justin Morneau, COL|
|2B||Anthony Rendon, WAS|
|1B||Anthony Rizzo, CHC|
|3B||Casey McGehee, MIA|
|OF||Justin Upton, ATL|
"It would be a big thing to stand along the third-base line, tip my cap and thank the Twins fans," Morneau said. "It would mean a lot."
Maybe it is fitting that if Morneau does get that chance to say thanks, it will be because of the vote of fans from not only Minnesota, but also those in Colorado and Cleveland. The Rockies and Indians have created a joint effort to promote Morneau and Tribe pitcher Corey Kluber.
Morneau also has found a groundswell of support from fans in his native Canada, who put on such a strong push a year ago they led the way for Blue Jays pitcher Steve Delabar to win the AL Final Vote. There are also the fans in Pittsburgh, where catcher and fellow Canadian Russell Martin has been pushing teammates to take to Twitter in support of Morneau.
Morneau has even found support in the NHL from the likes of Ryan Kesler, Willie Mitchell, James Wisniewski and Dwayne Roloson.
"I asked Wayne Gretzky and he said he didn't Tweet," said Morneau, "but he said he'd ask his daughter [Paulina]. He said she had [299,000] followers."
As nice as the support from fans would be, and as exciting as a return to Minnesota would feel, the best part about Morneau's situation is that after three seasons that left many feeling his career was nearing the end, Morneau is again one of the most productive players in the game.
It is a welcomed revival for the 2006 AL MVP Award winner, who made the All-Star team the next four seasons. Morneau suffered a concussion in 2010, then had a second concussion the next year, along with surgeries on his left wrist, left knee, right foot and neck.
"They were all different," Morneau said of the surgeries. "The wrist was a ligament. It was the most serious. They drilled out a bone. I had to restablize it."
So Morneau went on the free-agent market last winter having combined to hit only .256 with 40 home runs the previous three seasons. There were whispers that Morneau, given his surgeries and concussions, was much older than his 33 years of age would indicate.
The Rockies, however, were willing to give him a two-year deal with $12.5 million guaranteed. And at the urging of close friend and former Twins teammate Michael Cuddyer -- as well as boyhood baseball idol Larry Walker -- Morneau decided to sign with Colorado.
It's been a struggle on the field for the Rockies, who have been beset by a series of bizarre injuries. Morneau, however, has been a bright point. He went into Wednesday's game against San Diego with 13 home runs and ranked among the NL leaders with a .313 average (sixth), 59 RBIs (tied with Paul Goldschmidt for second) and a .509 slugging percentage (ninth).
"It's been nice," Morneau said. "I feel I can produce again."
It is a much nicer feeling than Morneau had nearly 10 months ago, when he was told he was no longer a member of the Twins.
"There were a lot of emotions," Morneau admitted. "The last year and a half in Minnesota, I wasn't sure if I was leaving or staying. When the trade was made, it was the best thing. It put an end to the uncertainty, but it was tough."
A chance to return next week as a part of the NL All-Star team would help close that chapter in Morneau's career.