Start of Something Big...
On June 9, the Minnesota Twins made their most anticipated call up in
a decade when Justin Morneau was promoted to replace injured infielder Chris Gomez. The 22 year old first baseman had
begun the season at AA New Britain before gaining a promotion to AAA Rochester on April 29. Possessing a compact, left-handed
power stroke, he excelled at both stops, belting 19 home runs in 57 games.
Day 1: June 10, 2003
prepared for his first big league game against the Colorado Rockies at the Metrodome, he discussed the whirlwind of events
that led to his arrival in Minneapolis. "We (Rochester) were playing in Buffalo and I was in the batting cage doing
some hitting," he explained. "(Manager) Phil Roof came in and said 'I've got some good news for you; (Twins GM) Terry
Ryan wants you up in Minnesota.' As soon as I got done in the cage, I ran and got my cell phone, but I couldn't get
a signal anywhere. I ended up out on the street in my uniform in Buffalo talking on my cell phone."
Morneau jumped into a car and headed back to Rochester to prepare for his flight to Minneapolis. Nervously excited,
he spent most of the night staring at the ceiling before getting out of bed at 4:00 a.m. to catch a flight to the Twin Cities.
At approximately 8:20 am on Tuesday, June 10, Justin Morneau landed at
Twin Cities International Airport ready to embark on his major league career. He found Twins' General Manager Terry
Ryan waiting for him there.
"I think he is very anxious; he wants to do well just like almost every player that gets
a promotion," Ryan said of Morneau. "Like a lot of younger kids, I am sure he's wondering how he's going to fit in.
It's always a transition about whether or not you get to play. Any kid that goes through the process of the draft and
the minor leagues and, ultimately, the promotion -- it's a big day not only in his life, but also for those around him."
signing the papers that made his transfer to the big club official, Ryan took the prized prospect to his hotel where he got
some rest. Later that afternoon Morneau headed to the Metrodome to introduce himself to his new teammates and meet with
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.
"(Gardenhire) told me just to do what I've been doing and not to look at the baggie and
think I just have to hit it over that," Morneau explained. "He told me to use the whole field." Gardenhire also informed
him he was in the lineup that night against the Rockies, playing designated hitter and batting clean up. "I smiled; it's much
better than just sitting around here and thinking about it -- I want to get out there," the wide-eyed rookie said.
7:32 p.m. he got his wish. Leading off the 2nd inning, Morneau stepped into a major league batter's box for the first
time against Rockies' right-hander Jason Jennings. After taking a ball outside and going too far on a check swing, he
fouled the next pitch off the Metrodome roof causing the crowd to buzz with excitement.
Morneau, calm and focused,
took the next pitch high for a ball, and then lashed a line drive, foul down the first baseline. With a 2-2 count, Jennings
went back to his fast ball and Morneau made him pay, lining it straight up the middle for a solid base hit.
me relax more, it took a weight off of my shoulders -- it felt good," Morneau said of his first major league hit. The newly
energized crowd responded by giving the baby-faced rookie a rousing, standing ovation. "I had to smile (after the ovation),"
Morneau commented, "normally I don't smile out there."
Morneau's next at bat, however, was a reality check. With
one out in the 4th, he took a ball outside, and then watched a called strike before flailing feebly at two straight sinkers
that ended up in the right-handed batter's box. But, the rookie didn't ditch his aggressive approach in his third at
bat against Jennings. With two outs in the 6th, Morneau jumped on the second pitch, lining to right for a sharp single.
wouldn't get another shot at Jennings. With Luis Rivas on second and Corey Koskie on first in the 8th, the Rockies brought
in left-hander Brian Fuentes to face the Twins' rookie phenom. The eager Morneau jumped on Fuentes' first offering, bouncing
it straight back to the Rockies' hurler for an easy putout. The Twins lost 5-0.
After getting two of the team's three hits in his major
league debut, Morneau found his locker surrounded by reporters. With the ball used for his first hit in a zip-lock bag,
and the tags still hanging from the gear in his locker, the rookie began his first post-game press conference with an uncomfortable
innocence. As he calmly and politely answered the reporters' questions, the mob surrounding him grew larger.
When third base coach Al Newman returned from the shower, he immediately
ordered the rookie to the middle of the clubhouse because the throng of media members had made his locker, and several others,
inaccessible. Morneau, knowing his place, quickly accommodated him. Newman then yelled, "Hold your ball while
you are talking," and tossed the baggie containing his first hit ball to the embarrassed youngster.
While Morneau continued
to field questions, the teasing and razzing kept going. With Newman, Jacque Jones, Dustan Mohr, and Torii Hunter leading the
way, the ribbing continued until Latroy Hawkins capped it off by stuffing a towel full of shaving cream into the unwitting
Morneau, to his credit, never lost his composure, wiped the mess off his face and continued answering
questions with bits of shaving cream hanging from his chin and ears. When the questions finally ended, he showered,
spent a moment with his visiting father, and returned to his hotel for some well-earned rest.
2: June 11, 2003
With Father's Day less than a week away, you didn't have to look around the Metrodome
very long to find the world's proudest pop. One minute, George Morneau was receiving an autographed line up card used
in his son's first game from Ron Gardenhire -- the next he was talking to Rockies outfielder Larry Walker, who had the Rockies
sign it. After a pre-game meal at the Dome, he chatted with fans who had already begun to adore his son.
called me at 4:00 p.m. on Monday (June 9), and said, 'Dad, I got the call to the Big Show,'" George Morneau said. "I
was just tickled pink; I just about started crying, I was probably more excited than him. I told I was coming, but when
I found out the price of the plane tickets, I just about went nuts, but I came anyway. Yesterday just about made my
whole life -- seeing my boy up at bat, getting a hit his first time up, and everybody giving him a standing ovation, I started
George beamed taking the line up card, which is the latest edition to the shrine he has created in honor of
his son's baseball career. "I have his first hit ball (in the minors), his first bat he used for a home run...it's all
his stuff, even though he gives it to me," he explained. "I got his first hit ball from last night. Coach Al Newman
gave it to me."
George, who lives in Kelowana, British Columbia, is "good friends" with Larry Walker Sr., the father
of the Rockies star and British Columbia native, that Justin grew up idolizing. Walker Jr., who has sent Justin autographed
bats in the past, chatted with his admirer before the game.
"I got tears in my eyes again, when I saw my son talking
to his idol, Larry Walker," George Morneau said. Justin was less visibly moved about the encounter, simply saying it
was "cool." He did, however, acknowledge that the multitude of events that occurred a day earlier had taken their toll.
"I think yesterday kind of caught up with me," he admitted. "I was real tired, but I am sure when the game starts I'll be
Unlike the previous night, he was able to sleep. "I went to sleep at midnight, which is early for me; usually
I am not asleep until two or three," Morneau explained. "Normally I get about eight hours of sleep, but last night I
got a eleven and a half."
During batting practice the rookie hazing continued. After taking a couple of cuts
in the cage, Morneau was set to step out and let Jacque Jones take his turn. Jones, however, informed the rookie had
three more swings. The unsure Morneau hesitated, and Jones yelled out again "you got three more," which finally prompted
the rookie to get back in to the cage. Jones, laughing, asked, "are you from Canada?" Doug Mientkiewicz, who was
standing nearby, said "only give him one (pitch); it took him a year to get in there."
In the lineup as the DH, batting
clean up once again, Morneau continued to wield a hot bat. He stepped to the plate against Rockies' righty Aaron Cook,
with one out and Koskie on first base and Cristian Guzman on second in the bottom of the first inning. After working the count
to 2-2, Morneau hit Cook's next offering to right field for a base hit. Guzman scored on the play, giving the Twins
a 1-0 lead and Morneau his first RBI.
When he came to the plate in the 3rd with runners and second and third, the Rockies
decided to walk the left-handed hitting Morneau, and pitch to the right-handed hitting Torii Hunter. To many in attendance
it seemed strange to intentionally walk a rookie with five major at bats to get to an established hitter, who was an All Star
last year. "They were playing the percentages," Morneau explained, "even though it was Torii (Hunter) hitting behind me, and
he's a pretty good hitter."
Morneau's next at bat came with 1 out in the 5th and Koskie again on
first. With Nelson Cruz pitching for Colorado, Morneau fell behind 0-2 before placing a base in the hole between first and
second base. After moving to third on back-to-back singles, Morneau scored his first run on a wild pitch by Cruz.
the 6th, with Cruz still pitching, Morneau nearly hit his first major league home run. After working the count to 2-2,
he smacked Cruz's next offering to the warning track in left where Rockies left fielder Jay Payton had just enough room to
bring it in.
"I was a little out front of it; he threw me a change up -- I looked stupid on it earlier in the at bat,
and I figured he was going to throw it to me again," he commented. "I wasn't sitting on it with two strikes -- I don't usually
guess with two strikes. I just got out in front of it enough where I was hoping it might carry, but I didn't think I
had enough of it."
During Morneau's next at bat, the baseball gods smiled on him. With two down in the 8th, Morneau
stepped to the plate with a runner on second and Justin Speier on the hill for the Rockies. After working the count full,
he hit a check-swing bouncer about 55 feet down the third base line that settled in fair territory. Speier, who watched hoping
the ball would roll foul, had no play, giving Morneau his third hit of the night,
After two major league games, Morneau
was hitting .625 (5-8), with a RBI and run scored. "I keep saying, 'there's no where to go but down, now,'" he joked.
"It's fun, but not every day is going to be like that."
"I always try to go out there and get a hit at every at bat,
but I didn't think I'd be doing this well my first couple of games."
Day 3: June 12, 2003
the third day he rested. With the Rockies starting veteran left-hander Darren Oliver, Ron Gardenhire decided go with
the right-handed Matthew LeCroy at DH. "They pretty much told me that is how it's going to be -- at first anyway-- I
go against the righties," Morneau explained." They told me to be ready to pinch hit in the 8th or 9th."
in the lineup didn't stop Morneau from putting on an impressive display during batting practice. With a few media types
looking on, he launched several balls over the large blue tarp known as the "baggie" in right field. The last of which
prompted longtime Twins television broadcaster Dick Bremer to say "love it", before walking away.
Now that Morneau
has had a taste of the major league lifestyle, he doesn't plan on going anywhere. "My first goal is to say up here up for
the rest of the year and hopefully be in the playoffs," he said.
Coach Al Newman, who was Morneau's first minor league
manager in 1999, sees continued big league success for this youngster. "I'll just say that he has a tremendous amount of potential,"
he commented. "His potential is unlimited, and with his work ethic, I am sure he'll continue to progress."
will tell whether or not Justin Morneau fulfills that potential, but no matter how his career turns out, the fond memories
of his first days in the major leagues will remain etched in his memories forever.
-photos by Sebastian Vannavong
The Morneau Chronicles
Morneau's statistics @ BASEBALL-REFERENCE.com
Simply Baseball Notebook