MINNEAPOLIS — Justin Morneau's latest recovery is "right on schedule" for him to start this season at first base for the Minnesota Twins.
The former American League MVP, been beset by all kinds of injuries the last two years, said on Friday night he's "hopeful" he'll be fully healthy in 2012. Last year, he had four surgeries and a concussion and hit only four home runs in 69 games.
"It's impossible to know what the future's going to hold, but I've just got to listen to what my body's telling me that day," Morneau said at the team's annual fan festival. "So far everything's gone good."
He had operations on his neck, left knee and right foot during the season and his left wrist right after it. After returning from the concussion that knocked him out of action for the last half of the 2010 season, he suffered a recurrence diving for a ball late in the year.
He said he still has headaches "once in a while" but that he's felt great since 2012 began. His wrist is still tight when he swings, but he said it shouldn't limit him once spring training starts next month. Morneau was so determined to come back healthier this year that he changed his diet after discovering his body doesn't handle gluten well. He dropped 20 pounds.
Before July 7, 2010, when a knee-to-the-head collision at second base spawned the concussion that kept him out until the following year, Morneau was hitting as well as he ever has, producing at a similar rate as he did during his MVP season in 2006.
Since then he's been a shell of his old self, and he doesn't shy from thinking back to his pre-concussion form.
"There were a lot of things going right so when I kind of need to remind myself that it can be good again and it will be good again, I think back to that and when stuff was good," Morneau said. "I'm not 38 going on 39. I'm 30 going on 31. So it's not like I'm in that danger zone where everything slows down. There's still a lot of time for me to become that player that I expect out of myself."
Proper perspective helps. He and some of his Twins teammates on Friday visited Jack Jablonski, the 16-year-old hockey player who was paralyzed by a hit into the boards last month.
"They said he'd never move his left arm, but we were in there watching him do rehab and he's moving his left arm and shaking our hands with his right hand. ... I think a lot of guys left there speechless just seeing everything he's gone through and how positive he was," Morneau said.
Morneau is by far from the only Twins player entering the spring who's eager to put a painful season behind him. Their 63-99 finish was caused by a number of factors, but the training room was crowded by the end of the summer.
"It was like we should've moved our lockers in there. Just make that the locker room," said right-hander Nick Blackburn, who had a postseason operation on his forearm to fix a nerve problem.
He added: "It obviously wasn't pretty, but I think everybody knows we have more talent than that. If we keep everybody healthy it should be a different story."
Catcher Joe Mauer, of course, will be watched closely after confounding soreness and weakness in his legs plus a couple of illnesses ruined his 2011 season. He looked as fit and lean as ever on Friday, and general manager Terry Ryan said Mauer is in good shape to start the spring. Ryan spoke of an ideal scenario for 140 games apiece from Morneau and Mauer, the franchise cornerstones.
Then there's center fielder Denard Span, who also dealt last season with concussion symptoms and migraine problems, albeit on a slightly less-publicized basis than Morneau. Span played in only 70 games last year, but he gave an upbeat update on his condition on the heels of what he called "one of the most depressing" seasons he's had.
"This is probably the best that I've felt in two years," Span said.
He started seeing a chiropractor, started a caffeine-free and supplement-free diet and has been participating in an eye therapy program on his laptop to strengthen his focus.
"I'm just ready to get out on the field, man, and test it out. Last year definitely was a tough year for me, a tough year for the team in general," Span said.
The Twins sure can't get any worse as a team.
"I can't speak for the other guys, but I think everybody's gone through the low-point and seen how bad it can be," Morneau said. "We haven't lost like that since any of us have been here, and I think everybody's doing everything in their body to be ready and take care of themselves and do everything that can be done to play the way we're capable of playing."
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