Morneau returns after concussion issues

Justin Morneau arrived at spring training for the Minnesota Twins hopeful that his concussion issues are finally behind him. However, the former AL MVP isn’t making any guarantees because he knows he doesn’t have many more treatment and recovery periods left in him.

Morneau has missed 174 games over the past two seasons, mostly because of concussions. The slugging first baseman remains optimistic that he will return as a clubhouse leader and force in the middle of the lineup. But he is realistic about the ramifications if his concussion issues linger.

”I don’t think there will be a career if it’s something I’m dealing with (for the long term),” Morneau said Friday before the Twins held their first full-squad workout of spring training. ”That’s the reality of the whole thing. I’m obviously not going to continue to mess around with this if it continues to be a problem.

”There comes a point where you can only torture yourself for so long. It’s something I love to do but you keep preparing and you keep being left out. That’s something that nobody wants to go through.”

Morneau also missed games over the past two years with neck, back, right knee, left foot and left wrist injuries, but said he wasn’t worried about those holding him back. He’s still gaining some strength in his wrist after surgery and has some numbness in the index finger on his left hand from a neck procedure. But he expects both conditions to improve this spring.

He’s dropped some weight with a change in his diet, reducing the stress on his ankles and knees. Morneau said he feels strong enough to go through all of the workouts without limitations.

It’s the concussions that concern him.

He was hit in the head while sliding into second base at Toronto on July 7, 2010, and missed almost all of the rest of that season while recovering. Then the symptoms resurfaced last season. He hit .227 with four homers and 30 RBI in 69 games last season, and needed four surgeries — on his neck, wrist, foot and knee.

”The only thing right now that I’m worrying about coming back or bothering me as we go along is the concussion stuff,” he said. ”That’s something that’s just so unknown. There’s people that have the post-concussion and deal with it the rest of their lives. It’s one of those things that I don’t know, I can’t predict the future.”

Coming off a 99-loss season, the Twins missed their franchise cornerstone, clubhouse leader and feared cleanup hitter. He was hitting .345 with 18 homers and 56 RBI when he went down in Toronto, and he hasn’t been the same since.

”It is definitely good to see him here walking around,” center fielder Denard Span said. ”He’s definitely a big key to our success, and we’re definitely going to need him. If we get him back to the old Morneau, I think we’ll be able to surprise some teams.”

Morneau did say that he feels much better entering spring this season than he did last year. He’s gotten support from his wife and advice from athletes who’ve had concussions, including former Twins third baseman Corey Koskie and pro hockey player Willie Mitchell. He prepared for the season with a full slate of baseball activities this winter.

”This year, I know whatever happens I’ve done everything I possibly can to be ready and to just put myself in the positions to succeed and to have a good year and to do everything that I can,” Morneau said.

”I feel like I was able to do enough this winter to be prepared. If something goes wrong or if something isn’t right it is not because I’m prepared or didn’t put the work in. The excitement is there.”