Morneau feels good, but concerns linger
Concussion issue continues to be in mind of former AL MVP
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Justin Morneau told reporters on Friday that he's optimistic about staying healthy this year, but he remains concerned about the concussion symptoms that have plagued him for the past two seasons.
The 30-year-old first baseman played in just 69 games last year after dealing with those symptoms as well as undergoing surgeries on his neck, left wrist, left knee and right foot.
Morneau, who sustained the initial concussion in July 2010, hasn't felt any symptoms since January, and he hopes to get through the season without any setbacks. But he also was blunt when asked if he'd try to continue playing if the symptoms don't go away.
"I don't think there will be a career if it's something I'm dealing with," Morneau said. "That's the reality of the whole thing. I'm obviously not going to continue to mess around with this if it continues to be a problem. There comes a point where you can only torture yourself for so long. It's something I love to do, but you keep preparing, and you keep being left out. That's something that nobody wants to go through.
"It's been a tough winter that way. I try not to think about that kind of stuff. Obviously, it's crossed my mind, and it's something I've had to think about, but when that stuff comes into my mind, I continue to look for something positive. [I] look how far I've come in the last week or in the last month and just hope it continues to go well."
Morneau, who reported to the club's Spring Training complex on Thursday after arriving in Fort Myers on Sunday, has been participating in full baseball activities without any issues for a month.
He plans on working out with the club during official workouts leading up to Minnesota's Grapefruit League opener on March 3, but he also plans on taking it slow in the early going.
"I don't know if I'll be at full 100 percent go, but I'm going to go out there and participate in everything," he said. "I'll take it day by day. I don't know how I'll feel tomorrow or a week from now, but right now I feel good. I'll just go from here. I feel good so far, and I've been able to do all baseball activities before I got out here.
"But it's a little bit different intensity once you get here. It's not as controlled an environment. But it's something I'm hopeful will continue to go well. I don't see any reason why it won't."
The 2006 American League MVP, Morneau struggled to stay healthy last year and hit just .227/.285/.333 with four homers and 30 RBIs in 69 games.
He underwent surgery on June 29 to relieve a pinched nerve in his neck and remove a herniated disk fragment before having a cyst removed from his left knee and a bone spur removed from his right foot on Aug. 19. The final surgery came on Sept. 30, when he underwent a stabilization procedure on the tendon in the back of his left wrist. That operation forced him to be in a cast for six weeks.
Morneau said that he's healed from the procedures -- the lone aftereffect from the neck surgery is numbness in his left index finger that doesn't affect his play -- and that his left wrist is at about 90 percent.
Morneau also changed his diet. He's slimmer than he usually is at the start of camp, and said that he currently weighs 222 pounds.
But his biggest concern remains the concussion symptoms that returned after a routine diving play at first base ended his season on Aug. 28.
"The only thing right now that I'm worrying about coming back or bothering me as we go along is the concussion stuff," he said. "That's something that's just so unknown. There's people that have the post-concussion [symptoms] and deal with it the rest of their lives. It's one of those things that I don't know. I can't predict the future. All that other stuff -- the foot, the knee, the wrist -- I don't see that limiting me at all going forward.
"It's just sort of making sure I don't do too much, be too excited that I'm out there with the guys running around and playing. Making sure I don't go 100 miles an hour the first couple of days. I need to still realize that April 6 is the goal, and that's what I want to be ready for. By doing too much early, it can maybe go backward. And by trying to pace myself a little bit and be ready for when I need to be ready for, hopefully it'll continue to go well."
Morneau got through Friday's first workout without any problems, taking fielding and batting practice, and hitting in the cage at Hammond Stadium.
General manager Terry Ryan said that Morneau still needs to be cleared by Major League Baseball to play in games, but that it's just a formality, and he expects him to be cleared soon.
"Today was a good day for him to ease in," Ryan said. "He did a lot of things today. There are no restrictions. I'm sure there's doubt just because everybody who comes in here the first few days has doubt. But that's the extent of it."
Manager Ron Gardenhire was also happy to see Morneau get through the first day without any issues, and is confident that his star slugger can stay on the field.
"I'm going to let him do his work and not worry about him," Gardenhire said. "But it's silly to think he wouldn't be worried about the concussion, considering he's been dealing for it for a month and a half. But I'm not worried about him. I'm going to let him play and see what happens.
"And if people are worried about him being honest, then that's too bad. He should be honest. He should be concerned. But he's fine, from everything I've seen. He had a good day today, so we'll go from there."
Morneau remains optimistic that he can control his symptoms, because at this point he has a good idea what he can and can't handle. He doesn't feel the symptoms until after a workout, getting fatigued after trying to do too much.
So he's starting Spring Training with the goal of keeping those symptoms at bay while trying to return to his old form.
"I'm expecting to have a good year," he said. "I wouldn't put all the work in. I started the rehab in October and have been going pretty much since then, everything with the goal of having a healthy season and doing what I'm capable of doing. I wouldn't be here if I didn't believe that was a possibility or the case. I wouldn't have put all that work in.
"Obviously, I've done everything I can, so I'll see how it goes, but I'm here to help this team win and to drive in runs and hit fourth and do the things I feel like I'm capable of doing."