Recovering Morneau arrives at Twins camp

Recovering Morneau arrives at Twins camp

Recovering Morneau arrives at Twins camp
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Well-studied in the nature of concussions, Justin Morneau detailed an arduous but nonetheless promising offseason on Monday after arriving at Twins camp.

The 29-year-old first baseman recovering from his second concussion in five years isn't yet cleared to play in games, and he expects to miss at least the first four exhibitions as he continues to recover from last July's season-ending collision on the bases.

"I wouldn't say it's 100 percent yet, but I think it's as close as I can get," Morneau said in a half-hour long meeting with reporters. "It's just trying to get over that final hump."

One of the last to arrive at camp before Tuesday's deadline, Morneau took Monday to get settled. He wore a T-shirt and shorts, and he'd yet to speak to manager Ron Gardenhire before talking to the media.

Tuesday and the days following, though, are to bring a welcome sight: the former MVP and four-time All-Star will be on the field and participating in the full gamut of Spring Training activities. He is cleared for all workouts -- just not games.

"I'm pretty excited to get out there with them; it's been awhile," Morneau said. "We'll see how it goes; we'll see how everything continues."

But Mourneau's not sure whether he'll be ready Opening Day. He hasn't played in a game since July 7, when his season ended because of a concussion he suffered trying to break up a double play at Toronto's Rogers Centre.

Sure enough, if Morneau is healthy for game No. 1 of the regular season, he'd be playing at the disaster site.

"We're hopeful that by April 1 in Toronto that we'll be on the field with the teammates, the last place I played a game -- kind of ironic," Morneau said. "It's one of those things. I'm very positive and very hopeful that will be the case, and there's only one way you can find out: by going through the workouts with the team and doing all the rest of it."

It's not only a question of when he'll be back, it's a question of who he'll be when he's back, and Morneau's admittedly concerned. Can he perform at the same level he always has?

Superficially, there are guaranteed changes: he's to wear an extra-cushioned batting helmet, similar to the ones used at last year's All-Star Game, and until he's cleared for games, he may wear a protective helmet during fielding drills as well.

"Obviously there's that concern, but from talking to guys that have been through it, and talking to [Corey] Koskie -- he's a guy that dealt with it for two and a half years -- he said that once he started feeling better, he noticed a difference, and now he said he feels good."

Paramount to baseball and not to be forgotten is Morneau's quality of life.

"You're driving and you're looking out the window, and stuff's flying by, and you go, 'Would I have noticed that before? Is that bothering me?'" Morneau said. "It's a constant thing, but eventually you get over that once you start feeling better."

Gardenhire said Morneau is not going to be treated any more gingerly than other players, despite his importance to the lineup. In 81 games last season, Morneau hit .345 with 18 home runs and 56 RBIs.

"I don't know if I'm any extra watchful with anybody," Gardenhire said. "We run him out there, we let him play. If the doctors say, 'You can do this or do that,' or 'You can go play,' Morneau knows, he'll know what he can and can't do.

"I don't expect anything other than him getting out there and going through all the drills."

In practice, double plays could well be the test for Morneau, both as a baserunner and in the field. He said that aside from the effects of the concussion, he's in as strong a baseball shape as he's been.

Breaking up a double play, though, could rekindle memories of how he was hurt in the first place, when his helmet collided with the knee of the Blue Jays' John McDonald at second base. It was an accident, but that doesn't mean Morneau will be fearless the next time there's a double-play grounder and he's on first.

"You want to be the same player you were and not peel off on double plays," Morneau said. "You take pride in being a team that tries to do the little things, whatever it is. That's something that will be of concern, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it."

Fielding a double play could pose a problem because of the quick side-to-side head movement required of a first baseman. Morneau cited that as a trigger action for post-concussion symptoms.

Fogginess has plagued Morneau the most.

"Talking to the doctor, the symptoms, headaches, fogginess, that type stuff -- fogginess is usually the last thing to go," Morneau said. "It's usually the hardest one to get over, and it was one of my main symptoms from the beginning."

Since New Year's, Morneau has been practicing full tilt, and that's included facing pitching as well as soft toss and typical workouts. He had to force himself to step back after missing the playoffs, to give his body time to heal.

Morneau said he'll have to be cautious not to push himself too hard if he sees quick success. But he wants to be back, and the Twins need him back.

Last October, when the Twins were swept by the Yankees in the American League Division Series, the hardest part was sitting idle.

Said Morneau, "Having to miss the playoffs two years in a row, you never know how many chances you are going to get in this game to go to the playoffs and win a World Series ring."

Evan Drellich is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @EvanDrellich. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.