Justin Morneau still taking baby steps, won't play initial exhibitions
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Justin Morneau expressed optimism upon his arrival at Hammond Stadium and said he expects to fully participate in the Minnesota Twins' workout on Tuesday.
But in an extensive interview with reporters early Monday afternoon, Morneau made clear he's still taking baby steps toward returning from the concussion that ended his 2010 season and isn't sure when he'll make his spring training game debut.
"Everything's been going good," Morneau said. "I haven't been cleared for game activity. I've been cleared to do workouts -- go out on the field, do everything with teammates, face live pitching, do all that stuff.
"We're not going to be playing in the first four or five (exhibition) games -- we'll see how that goes. But we have to wait to see how it goes going through workouts every day, just being with the team, being out there, going through all the drills, all the rest of it. See how that reacts, and hopefully, it goes how it has been. It's been going well, especially the last month. It's progressed a lot.
"I wouldn't say it's 100 percent yet, but I think it's as close as I can get. It's just trying to get over that final (hurdle)."
Mostly upbeat and cracking jokes at times, Morneau spoke for roughly 33 minutes during his first media conference since his final comeback attempt of 2010 ended on Oct. 4 -- a little less than three months after he took a knee to the head on July 7 at Toronto.
"There was the goal of the playoffs, and there was the goal of all the rest of it, but it's been a battle all winter," Morneau said. "We've done everything, I think, possible to try and take care of this thing and be ready, but whenever it's ready, it's ready. There might be a day or two when things aren't perfect, but you've got to battle through it and see how it reacts.
"But we're hopeful that by (the regular-season opener) April 1 in Toronto that we'll be on the field. ... I'm very positive and very hopeful that will be the case, and there's only one way you can find out -- by going through the workouts with the team and doing all the rest of it."
Recent weeks have shown significant progress, Morneau said, with the "fogginess" that plagued him for months after the injury finally subsiding. He's been working out for roughly 5 hours a day without issue near his Arizona home -- including some work turning double plays to test the side-to-side motion that's given him the most trouble.
Morneau already has been fitted with a new, more protective helmet and initially will wear one in the field, too, although he plans to use that only during batting practice once he's cleared for game action.
His goal with Monday's media conference, he said, is to avoid answering the same questions over and over throughout spring training.
"It's not a fun game that you play every day," Morneau said, referring to thinking about his health.
"And talking with other people who have gone through it -- you wake up every morning and go, 'OK, how do I feel? OK, I feel good now.' And then you go through the workouts and you go, 'Is this bothering me? How does this feel?' When I'm running, 'Is this normal?'
"Once you go through that for a while, you build confidence and that stuff starts to go away, and you start thinking less and you're going through activities like you normally would during an offseason. The last few weeks, all that stuff has kind of improved. And then you're driving and you're looking out the window, and stuff's flying by, and you go, 'Would I have noticed that before? Is that bothering me?'
"It's a constant thing, but eventually you get over that once you start feeling better."
The Twins' medical staff surely will be monitoring Morneau closely. Manager Ron Gardenhire, though, said he'll treat Morneau like any player coming off an injury.
"I don't know if I'm any extra watchful with anybody," Gardenhire said. "We brought him out there, we let him play. If the doctors say you can do this or do that or you can go play, Morneau will know what he can and can't do. If he starts feeling a little whatever, then he'll back off -- just like any other player on the team."