Good Luck Morny!
Photos and Story by Gordy Jones
In 2003, I was working in the Twins’ guest services department. Before each game, we would get an update so we would have the latest information for inquiring fans. One late afternoon in June, as the supervisor was finishing her briefing, she shared an after-thought that went something like this: “Oh yes, I forgot to mention: the Twins have called up a catcher who has converted into a first baseman. His name is Dustin Morneau – excuse me – I think it’s Justin. I was thinking of Dustan Mohr. Well, he probably won’t be here long. I hope not anyway; these names are too confusing.” Everyone giggled.
A few days later, I met Justin. I had seen him at spring training but never really talked to him. He appeared to have a certain stand-offishness that I mistook for cockiness. Over the years, as we became friends, I discovered I was wrong: He is confident, not cocky. He is not shy, but reserved. I have heard him speak publicly, and his words are few…but well chosen. He is direct, but easy-going. He may have been a little immature in 2003, but so is everyone in his mid-20s. It is where a person goes from there that matters. I watched him as he developed into a great ballplayer, teammate, citizen, and family man.
Justin met the woman of his dreams in Minnesota, married, and began raising his family. I recently referred to him as a Canadian, and he told me: “Yes, that’s true. I’m from Canada, but my home and family are here. I consider myself a Minnesotan, too.”
When Justin sees things that are wrong, he does what he can to right them. When a niece was diagnosed with childhood arthritis, he was flabbergasted to find out that kids could suffer like that. He used his status to raise money for care and research. Every year he and his wife, Krista, host a casino night with teammates and celebrities to raise awareness and funds.
It’s been awhile since I heard this story, but I tried to recollect it as best I could. It’s one of my favorite Morneau stories, and it goes something like this: While visiting Krista’s family in southern Minnesota, on a rare summer evening when he wasn’t playing ball, Justin went out for a drive, and maybe to get an ice cream treat. As he drove past a youth ballfield, he slowed down to watch the kids play. He eventually parked and got out of his car, but watched from a distance.
As the game ended, one team was high-fiving and the other hanging their heads when someone saw him: MVP Justin Morneau! The kids swarmed him, and he chatted with them all, signed autographs, and just had a good old time. But one thing he noticed that night was the poor condition of the field. That’s when he had an idea, and struck a deal with the Twins. He offered to put up a certain amount of money to refurbish that field if the Twins would match it. For the next few years, he and the Twins gave kids better places to play ball. They fixed up fields in Minneapolis and rural Minnesota, including the ballpark where it all began in southern Minnesota.
I am happy for Justin – he now has a chance to play post-season ball – but I’m sad for Twins’ fans. Justin had overcome a severe concussion and was ready for action! His pal Joe Mauer recently suffered a concussion of his own and has been out of the lineup. No M & M’s for the Twins. M & M is a joint nickname they didn’t approve of years ago when they were rising young ballplayers. Justin once told me it was difficult enough adjusting to major league ball without being compared to a couple of the greatest teammate ballplayers ever: Mantle and Maris. Years later, he told me that he had learned there are bigger things in life to be concerned about than being compared to a couple of legends. He had come to realize it was a compliment.
My all-time favorite Morneau story, though, is a personal one. Everyone on the Twins calls Justin “Morny.” I would politely call him Justin. A couple of years ago at a party, I saw him and said, “Hi, Justin.” He shook my hand and said, “You can call me Morny, all of my friends do.” Good luck, friend! I hope to see you in the playoffs — and maybe back with the Twins someday.