FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Before the World Baseball Classic started, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire admitted he was nervous about Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau leaving Twins camp to participate in the tournament.
After all, the two former AL MVPs are key to the club's success and haven't exactly been a picture of health over the last few years.
But not only did Mauer and Morneau return from the Classic healthy, they both starred in the tournament for their respective countries.
Mauer, playing for Team USA, hit .429 with two doubles, a triple, two RBIs and five walks while Morneau, playing for Team Canada, hit .636 with three doubles, three RBIs and a walk.
So while both players wished their teams had better success in the tournament -- Team USA reached the second round before being eliminated with a loss to Puerto Rico on Friday, and Team Canada didn't make it out of the first round -- they were happy with their decisions to leave Spring Training and play in the Classic.
"It was a good experience," Morneau said. "When you're there and you're caught up in it, it's like playoff baseball. It's a lot of fun."
Mauer also compared the intensity of the tournament to that of the postseason and said he felt like Team USA was the road team in all of its games except for their victory over Team Italy in Phoenix.
He said the hardest part was being away from camp for so long but that playing in games with such a high intensity helped him get ready for the regular season a little earlier than usual.
"The only tough thing about it is it felt like a 2 1/2-week road trip," Mauer said. "Kind of throws off your routines a little bit, but you make adjustments. I'm feeling pretty good leaving the tournament. Kind of ready to open the season."
Both players said their most memorable moment came when Twins closer Glen Perkins faced Morneau with Mauer behind the plate when Team USA and Team Canada met at Chase Field on March 10.
But they described the ensuing play different, as Mauer made sure to say Morneau's single to right field off Perkins wasn't crushed.
"Justin got a little base hit," Mauer said with a smile. "Perk had him down 1-2, but I was telling Perk if that ball's down, it would've been a strikeout. So I think there will be a lot of talk about that at-bat in this clubhouse for a while."
Morneau, though, said hitters don't care how hard the ball is hit as long as it ends up as a hit in the box score. He also added that he hasn't teased Perkins much about it, especially considering Canada ended up being knocked out of the tournament with a 9-4 loss to Team USA.
"There was no real trash talk," Morneau said. "If you could find three guys who talk the least amount of trash, it would probably be me, Joe and Perk. It was respectful. They know if we beat them it would've been a huge deal. It's unfortunate we didn't win because there would've been more trash talk from me."
But now that the tournament is over for both Mauer and Morneau, they're focused on trying to keep their bats hot before the Twins open the regular season against the Tigers on April 1 at Target Field.
Mauer returned to action on Monday against the Marlins and went 2-for-3 with two singles, and he will continue to ramp up his time behind the plate to get ready for the season.
"I feel pretty good," Mauer said. "Obviously, there is some work to be done, so I'm glad we have a couple more weeks before we get going. But I was able to square some balls up and was seeing a lot of pitches. So it was good."
Morneau also knows there's still nearly two weeks to get ready for Opening Day but is happy that he's finally healthy this season and has been swinging the bat well.
"It was a good foundation to build off of to have a few good days of the success at the plate and know my swing is pretty close to where I want it to be," Morneau said. "So it's a good confidence builder, and hopefully I can continue it."