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Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Justin Morneau on the mend

Associated Press

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Justin Morneau isn't going to sugarcoat his concerns over recurring concussions and how they could affect his playing career.

All the former AL MVP can do to quell the nerves of Minnesota Twins fans is go about his daily workouts like the old Justin Morneau, and he's doing a pretty good job of that so far in spring training.

Morneau
Morneau

A week after reporting to camp and saying that he has given thought to what another concussion would mean for his baseball life, Morneau has gone through every workout, every batting practice and every fielding drill with his Twins teammates.

Morneau hit a home run off of Francisco Liriano in live batting practice on Tuesday and said Wednesday that he is hoping to play in the Twins' spring training opener against Tampa Bay this weekend.

"You take positive steps every day," Morneau said. "Obviously it's always going to be there. You never know what's going to happen tomorrow or a week from now or a month from now, so it's the old cliche, take it one day at a time. That's really what I'm doing.

"As I build confidence every day and everything's going good, hopefully that stuff will be in the past by the time the season starts," he added.

Morneau missed 174 games over the previous two seasons with multiple concussions and injuries to his neck, left wrist, right knee and left foot. He was primarily concerned about the head injuries, and said last week, "There comes a point where you can only torture yourself for so long."

That got Twins fans worried, but Morneau said he was just answering a question honestly and insists he's feeling good and expecting to return to the form that made him a franchise cornerstone at first base.

"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that if the stuff continues I probably wouldn't be able to play again," Morneau said Wednesday. "It wasn't anything other than stating the obvious.

"I also said that I don't expect that to happen. I don't anticipate that to happen. That's something that's in the back, maybe five percent, of my mind."

The Twins desperately need him back in the middle of the lineup. He had 18 homers and 56 RBIs and was batting .345 when he first went down with a concussion in July of 2010. He only played 69 games last season, hitting four homers while the Twins sunk to the bottom of the division.

When Morneau showed up to camp this year, he said he wasn't sure how the increased intensity of the workouts would affect him. So far, "they haven't," he said.

"There's a lot of optimism in how he's going about his business," general manager Terry Ryan said.

The difference between this spring training and last for Morneau is noticeable. The uncertainty about working out is gone and he knows the protocol for returning from a concussion.

"I think I kind of have a better idea of how I feel and what I need to do every day to try to prepare," he said.

And of course he has given thought to what he will do when his baseball career is over, whether that comes sooner or later. Anyone who has struggled with injuries the way he has the past two seasons would do the same.

"You have to look at all the options and everything that's happened," Morneau said. "You kind of look to see what you want to be besides a baseball player when you're done playing. Sometimes you have control when that is and most of the time you don't."

Right now, everything is looking good. And that's all anyone around here can ask for.

Little by little, the signs of the old Morneau are starting to surface. After blasting one pitch from Liriano over the center field wall and another off the wall on Tuesday, Morneau stepped out of the cage and got a nice ovation from a group of fans watching him take his cuts.

"That made me feel pretty good," Morneau said. "I was surprised. I didn't realize there were that many people there watching. You kind of get locked in ... and you feel like you're in a cage. That was pretty awesome."