Throwback Thursday: Morneau in Minny

 * Minnesota Twins GM Terry Ryan believes Justin Morneau, who celebrates his 33rd birthday Thursday, will be discussed amongst the greatest Twins ever (story originally published on Sept. 9, 2013). .... 2014 Canadians in the Minors 2014 Canadians in College Letters of Intent 2014 Canadian draft list 2015 Canadian draft list

This story was originally published on Sept. 9, 2013

By Bob Elliott

MINNEAPOLIS -- In his first game on June 10, 2003 he fouled off the second pitch.

The crowd of 18,886 Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome gave him an ovation. Four pitches later he singled in a 5-0 loss to the Colorado Rockies.

And in his last at-bat with the Minnesota Twins he struck out on three pitches against lefty Robbie Ross in the ninth inning of a 3-2 win over the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington eight days ago.

In between Justin Morneau played 1,278 games wearing while Twins pin stripes or blue jerseys with red lettering.

Signed by scout Howie Norsetter in the third round of the 1999 draft, he had multiple surgeries, a concussion after being drafted and now Morneau is gone.

Terry Ryan, the Twins general manager, informed Morneau he’d been dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates last Saturday morn in Arlington.

As a Twin he hit 221 homers, knocked in 860 runs and hit .278 with an .832 OPS.

Oh and he narrowly edged New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter (320-306 points) to win the 2006 American League MVP and two years later finished second behind Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia (317-257).

“He’s been fair to us, we’ve been fair to him,” said Ryan. “He’ll be discussed amongst the greatest Twins when all is said and done. He was an MVP, he had longevity and post-season appearances. When people talk about Kent Hrbek, they talk about his World Series.

“Justin took on a leadership role, has a tremendous amount of pride, whether was winning the home run derby at Yankee Stadium, playing for Canada in the World Baseball Classic or Canadian hockey players.”

Tony Oliva, the Twins legend, worked with Morneau when he was a catcher in the minors.

“Had him as a baby,” said Oliva. “He matured as a hitter and as a first baseman. But I’ll tell you he has not changed one bit since I met him at instructional league. He came through the minors, became a regular and became a super star ... and never changed.”

Morneau made the move from behind the plate to first, not because he couldn’t catch, but due to elbow problems.

“Justin had a good teacher learning first base in Tom Kelly,” said Oliva. The former hit Morneau 100s of grounders each day on back fields at Fort Myers and the old MetroDome. You can work with a guy all you want but if he doesn’t want to work, he’s not going to get any better,”

With Joe Mauer, Morneau formed the M&M Boys. Morneau was in Mauer’s wedding party when the catcher wed Maddie. Mauer stood up for the first baseman when he married Crista. Two Twins marrying St. Paul women.

“We didn’t meet until instructional in 2003,” said Mauer. “I joke with that they found a different position because I showed up. They had him in right field that year. I’m one of the few who saw him to try and track a fly ball ... not very pretty.”

Mauer has been battling the after affects of a concussion, so he wasn’t there to say goodbye to his pal in Arlington.

“It was probably a good thing I wasn’t there,” Mauer said. “We’ve talked a few times on the phone since Sunday.”

Ryan recalled the first time he saw Morneau. The Twins had signed Morneau and flew him into the MetroDome for a workout before heading to Florida.

“He put on a display,” said Ryan. “Lots of home runs into the outfield seats in right above the baggie. It was impressive.”

The Twins acquired outfielder Alex Presley for Morneau, a free agent at the end of the season.

“Fans get attached to players, so does the front office, the medical staff, the trainers,” said Ryan. “The way Justin handled himself and represented the organization was always first class.”

“I tried to keep him appraised as much as possible.”

And what now for Morneau (“he’s going to the post season,” said Ryan) and down the road (“he’ll have a good year next season,” said Oliva.)

“He’s on the right track,” said Oliva. “It’s a so-so year ... for him, good for most. He’ll finish with over 20 homers ... maybe 90 RBIs.”

Morneau, 32, is hitting .262 with 17 homers and 74 RBIs. In 132 games with the Twins and the Pirates he has a .747 OPS.

“Justin Morneau had been here a long time,” said Ryan. “It wasn’t the easiest trade I ever made.”