* Justin Morneau (New Westminster, BC) doesn't comprehend the rationale of Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.) to want to play shortstop which led to a withdrawl from the WBC. .... 2012 Most Influential Canadians 2012 All-Canadian Team 2012 All-Canadian stats
By Bob Elliott
DUNEDIN - Not that Justin Morneau is a big wrestling fan.
Yet, he read with interest the news that the International Olympics Committee was set to drop Greco-Roman wrestling.
“The story mentioned baseball could be added for 2020. I want to hang on until then. I’ll be 39 ... that’s how badly I want to play for Canada in the Olympics,” said Morneau Tuesday morn, sitting in the drab visiting clubhouse at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.
The Minnesota Twins first baseman helped Canada win a spot at the 2003 Olympic qualifier in Panama, but missed the chance to play at the 2004 Athens Olympics because he was promoted to the majors a month before the team left for Greece.
Morneau will play for Canada at the World Baseball Classic.
Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Russell Martin, who wanted to play shortstop, will not.
“It’s your obligation to play for your country, plus most Canadians in the majors came through Greg Hamilton’s Canadian National Junior Team program,” Morneau said. “Without it, few us (who didn’t get drafted out of university), would be here.”
Morneau and Martin, along with Brett Lawrie and 14 others on the 28-man roster, are grads of the junior team.
“I understand guys trying to make teams not playing, or guys trying to get contracts,” said Morneau, “but I have a hard time understanding why a guy who is healthy is not.
“It’s unfair that we’re going to be judged as a baseball nation when not all of our guys will be there.”
After winning the Pan Am Games, taking silver in the World Juniors and bronze in the World Cup, Canada is ranked sixth internationally of the 153 countries.
Morneau, Martin and the rest of the Canadian team were upset 6-2 by Italy at the 2009 WBC at the Rogers Centre. They felt the pain of the early exit with their best starter — Scott Richmond — saved for the next game against Venezuela.
“We were responsible for that loss, we should all want to go back,” Morneau said. “That guy over there, he’s going to the WBC ... to catch.”
Morneau was nodding to teammate Joe Mauer, who will catch for Team USA.
If anyone could have said, “thanks, but no thanks,” to a WBC invite it would be Morneau.
Morneau suffered a concussion sliding into second, hitting his noggin on John McDonald’s knee in 2010, and another in 2011 diving for a ball at Target Field.
He had knee, wrist, foot and neck surgeries after the 2011 season. And he is headed for free agency.
Why not stay in camp and get ready at a peaceful pace so he can put up some big numbers, rather than play high-tempo games in March?
“I consider it an honour to play for your country,” Morneau said. “Can you imagine one of our better hockey players saying he didn’t feel like playing?
“They played the Canada Cup in late August or early September, long before everyone was in game shape.”
Morneau said suiting up for Canada was similar to charity work: Expected.
“I’m not saying playing for your country is the same, but if you sign a multiyear deal you owe it to the city where you play to made a charitable donation — it’s something you are supposed to do,” said Morneau. “Well, playing for your country is something you are supposed to do.
“You are obligated. It is a privilege to represent your country.”
Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto was not as critical of Martin as some Canadians have been.
“I understand his hesitation and respect his allegiance to his organization,” said Votto. “He is a big part of the Pirates hopes of contending. I had a great time playing with him in 2009.
“It is very difficult for us to find a replacement for a former all star and gold glove winner.”
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who has managed a few Canadians over the years, said, “I’ve never met a prouder Canadian than Justin Morneau.”
The red maple leaf on his right shoulder is an indicator.
The way his voice rises when he speaks so passionately of Canada is another.
“If he’d said, ‘Hey I’m with a new organization, I want to learn our pitching staff’ fine, but he wanted to come only as a shortstop,” said Morneau. “When I was told that the first time (about Martin wanting to play short) I laughed.”
Martin has not played short as a pro since one game at rookie-class Gulf Coast Dodgers in 2002.
Neither the Pirates or Team Canada said yes to Martin’s desire for the position change.
Morneau has been known to spend off days flying to watch NHL playoff games.
“Talk to any of the NHLers,” said Morneau. “Their best memories are from the World Juniors, Canada Cup, or the Olympics.”
Team Canada players fly into Phoenix Sunday to try and make some memories.
Morneau said once there he’s not discussing Martin anymore, saying “I’ll talk about people who want to be there.”