SPORTS

Despite past injury issues, Canadian Justin Morneau learns to savour every day

03/14/2012 05:04 EDT | Updated 05/14/2012 05:12 EDT
FORT MYERS, Fla. - It has to be considered progress for Justin Morneau that he sat in front of his locker and talked about hitting and not concussions.

This is the second season in a row that the 30-year-old Minnesota Twin from New Westminster, B.C., has come back from concussion symptoms that ended his season.

"Everything has been going good, I've been able to do everything everyone else is doing and haven't been limited in any way," he said at Hammond Stadium.

Morneau is farther ahead this spring training than he was last year at a similar stage. He is playing in regular spring training games, either at first base or designated hitter.

He played opening day last season when the Twins were in Toronto and he appears ready to do so again when the team opens in Baltimore on April 6.

"That's the plan," he said. "I've said all along I can't tell how I'm going to feel tomorrow or how I'm going to feel a week from now but today I feel good and I keep building on that every day and keep going well.

"It's the cliche one day at a time but that’s kind of what I have to do and with every day I gain more confidence and feel better and feel more part of the team and part of the program and just plan on being ready."

His concussion problems began in Toronto on July 7, 2010 when he took a knee to the head sliding into second base. It turned out to be his last play of the season.

Last year on Aug. 28, he made a jarring dive on a ball hit down the first base line at Target Field. The concussion symptoms that resulted ended his season. The symptoms lasted until December but he has since been cleared.

That wasn't the only problems Morneau endured in 2011. He had surgery June 19 for a pinched nerve in his neck. On Sept. 19, he had a cyst removed from his left knee and had a bone spur removed from the top of his right foot. And on Sept. 30, he had surgery to stabilize the tendon in his left wrist.

During the off-season he also changed his diet after tests showed he was sensitive to sugars, gluten and dairy.

But he said this has been spring training as usual.

"I've been doing pretty much the same as I normally do during the spring," he said. "I might even be doing a little bit less trying to just build it up slowly, realizing I don't have to be full speed, full timing, in the middle of March. I need to be there at the start of April, May, June and July and the rest of the year."

After going 0-for-3 against Toronto on Tuesday at Fort Myers, Fla., and 0-for-5 against Philadelphia at Clearwater, Fla., on Wednesday, he was batting .136 in Grapefruit League games.

"Obviously spring training is important but it's not do-or-die," he said. "I think around the 40 at-bat mark is usually where everything kind of comes together. You can't really force it before that. You just kind of go with it and try and stay positive good or bad knowing that what happens in spring training doesn't really matter."

In some ways, Morneau said it can be more difficult in spring training for a hitter than a pitcher. It's not because he is working on anything in spring training games the way a pitcher might. It's more about familiarity.

"If you're thinking about mechanics is a game you're in trouble but I think it's harder to be a hitter in spring training than a pitcher," he said. "During the season you know what the guy's got, who the guy is coming out of the bullpen, you get probably three maybe four at-bats against the starter and you can kind of get a plan going.

"Here it's like you face a different guy every at-bat, and sometimes it's a kid from Double-A, throwing 96 (m.p.h.) have no idea what he's got and he's doing his best to try and strike you out. So it can be a little tough.

"Later into the spring you can put more into the at-bats and you know try and get a plan. You're going to face a starter twice, maybe even three times so it’s more like a real game than just facing somebody different every at-bat."

As difficult as the past two seasons have been from Morneau with even uncertainty about his career entering his thoughts, he says he has learned.

"You learn as you go what’s important and what isn't," he said. "When you live and die with every at-bat you obviously have to be focused and expect to get a hit every time you're up there but you can't put too much into the failure and beat yourself up too much when things are going bad.

"Just enjoy every day for what it is. Every day is a dream come true and we're lucky to do what we do."

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