MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota Twins slugger Justin Morneau held an autograph signing as part of his winter coat drive on Saturday, and the first fan showed up to get in line at 5:30 a.m., about 5 hours before the event was scheduled to begin.
Morneau’s fans, and especially his teammates, are even more eager to see him back on the field.
The 2006 AL MVP said on Saturday that he is feeling better every day as he recovers from a concussion that caused him to miss the last three months of the season and is sure he will be ready to go once spring training begins in February.
“There’s not a doubt in my mind I’ll be ready for spring, especially with what I’ve done this week and how it’s reacted and how I’ve felt,” Morneau said. “That’s something that hasn’t even crossed my mind.”
It wasn’t always so cut and dried.
Morneau was injured on July 7 while sliding into second base in Toronto. What was initially believed to be a minor injury ended up keeping him out for the remainder of the season and Minnesota’s first-round playoff loss to the Yankees.
As the effects of the concussion lingered throughout the summer, there was real concern in the organization and some fans were worried they may never see his powerful left-handed swing at Target Field again.
But Morneau has started working out hard this week and said that doctors recently put him through another battery of concussion tests.
“It’s still improving,” Morneau said. “They’re encouraging me to workout and do everything you can do there. It’s gone well.”
Morneau plans to head to his offseason home in Arizona soon to begin strenuous workouts to get his body ready for spring training and, he hopes, a full season. He missed the final month of 2009 because of a back injury and has had to watch the Twins in the postseason for two straight years.
“To have to sit there and watch and feel like you can make a difference, it’s very frustrating and very tough,” he said.
The Twins sure could have used him. He was hitting .345 with 18 homers and 56 RBIs when he went down and still finished with the fourth-highest home run total on the team despite playing in only 80 games.
Without their big bopper in the cleanup spot, and one of their vocal leaders in the clubhouse, the Twins were swept out of the first round by the Yankees.
Helping matters was that he got to spend more time with his newborn daughter, whose arrival Morneau called “a very good distraction” to keep his mind off his health.
Even though he is starting to feel better during workouts and exercise, Morneau said he was especially encouraged by how he performed during his appearance at Target Field on Saturday. He sat a table and signed autographs and took pictures with hundreds of fans over a couple of hours and said he felt good the whole time.
“Two months ago I couldn’t have come out and sat for that long and signed,” he said. “It’s come a long ways. It’s a lot better. It’s not all the way there yet, but it’s close.”
Morneau and his wife Krista have sponsored the coat drive for a few years now, and this season’s event lasts from Nov. 15-Dec. 10, with all the coats being donated to local shelters. Morneau was a finalist this year for the Roberto Clemente Award, given annually to a major league player who combines community service with excellence on the field.
“I feel very blessed and very fortunate,” Morneau said. “I get to play a game and I get paid for it. It’s a great life. We’re very lucky. I noticed early on you can make a difference in peoples’ lives even with small gestures.”