Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau already has an MVP trophy (from 2006), an All-Star appearance (2007) and an $80 million contract extension. And he's only 26.
Something, though, tugs at him. What if the 6-foot-4 slugger from New Westminster, British Columbia, had gone down a different path, the one millions of Canadian boys dream about — the road that led to the NHL? Morneau idolized Patrick Roy, got chills meeting Bobby Hull and Bobby Orr, and recently got to do something few NHLers ever experience. If only Morneau's dad had let him play goalie sooner. If only his dad hadn't given him so many middle names.
Q: In your youth, were you a cat-quick net-minder in the mold of a young Paddy Roy?
Justin Morneau: I didn't really have a style. I was pretty much all over the place. I never went to any hockey camps or goalie schools, or anything like that. I just kind of watched guys on TV and tried to emulate them.
Q: Weren't you part of a really good junior hockey team back home?
JM: Yeah, but I was the third goalie. A backup to the backup. If somebody got hurt, I might have gotten out there as a backup. I played in an exhibition game and backed up some regular-season games.
Q: Aren't you a little tall to be a goalie?
JM: Well, I didn't think so. I always wanted to be a goalie from the time I was 5. My dad [George] finally let me when I was 11. I bugged him every year. He told me I had to learn how to skate and figured that I'd grow out of it. Finally, he let me go in net.
Q: A Canadian father who didn't push his son to play hockey?
JM: No, I played hockey. I was a defenseman. He just wanted me to stay out of the net and not be a goalie. The equipment was so expensive. There were many other reasons. He was a defenseman. My brother's a defenseman. I think he figured we'd all have a better chance [to play in the NHL] because there are more spots for defensemen.
What's with your dad adding his name to your birth certificate behind your mom's back? JM:
He said he wanted one of his sons to be named after him, even though my brother is already named after him.Q:
That must not make your brother feel very good.JM:
Ha! Well, no, he's named after his nickname [Geordie] and my dad wanted someone to be named after his actual name [George].Q:
And your parents didn't discuss it?JM:
No, well, I had the one middle name [Ernest] and mom gave my dad the envelope to send off [to Canadian authorities], and I think
this is the story, I don't really remember, I was a little young.Q:
I can't believe you haven't had family meetings about this.JM:
Well, my parents are divorced.Q:
Oh, excuse me. Because of this?JM:
No [laughs]. It's OK. Anyway, I guess he opened up the envelope and he added his name in the middle and then sealed it up again and sent it off. My mom didn't know where it came from.Q:
Would they use all four of your names, as in, "Justin Ernest George Morneau, get in here right this instant!" when you were bad?JM:
No, but I had a brother who is a year-and-a-half older, and he always got blamed for stuff. So I'd run to my mom, tell on him and then he'd get into trouble. I got to do whatever I wanted.
You got to hoist the Stanley Cup last year after Anaheim won. Was it a religious experience?JM:
It was awesome. Not quite like if you had won it and got to hold it up, but I actually got on the ice —[Chris] Pronger took care of me — and it was awesome to be around them. All those guys are superstitious; they say they won't touch it unless they win it. I figured I'm never going to get a chance to play for it, so I might as well.Q:
On rough days at the ballpark, do you ever feel like, Man, I should have been a goalie?JM:
My first spring training in 2000, I was in the minor leagues and I got hurt. I was 19 and I still could have gone back and played juniors. Not that I would have made the team, but I was still eligible. My first year, I thought about it ... After that, you wonder what could have happened, but so many things have to go right for you to play in the NHL. You have to stay healthy, you have to have an opportunity. You have to take advantage of your opportunity. You have to be good enough [laughs]. So, who knows? But I've thought about it from time to time, what it'd be like. I'd get to golf in the summer. I know that.Q:
Could Theo Fleury or Augie Ojeda
fit inside the Cup?JM:
In the Cup? [laughs] That'd be a tight squeeze.Q:
If you could fill the Cup with any beverage, what would it be?JM:
Probably just some Molson Canadian.Q:
It's cold in Minnesota. Wouldn't you like to skate to the ballpark?JM:
That'd be a pretty good workout. I live all the way in St. Paul. That's a long distance for me. It's a 20-minute drive for me. I wonder how long that'd take me on skates. Q:
Did going to a team based so close to Canada help you in the transition to living in the U.S., what with the language barrier, radically different cuisine and the use of money?JM:
Ha! I mean, you spend so many years in the minor leagues when you sign. It's good, now that I'm in the big leagues. It's a good hockey town, so I get to go to those games and all that kinds of stuff. Same kinda thing. Winter's a little tougher but come summer, everybody's outside doing stuff and happy. Q:
If someone were actually traded for a used puck bag, that wouldn't necessarily be something for nothing, would it?JM:
No, pucks are getting expensive. You'll always need bags for 'em. Better than being traded for nothing.
Q: Have things in the Metrodome just not been the same since they removed the giant milk container (pictured left) from right field?
JM: We actually noticed that in batting practice the other day. We were looking out there. Someone said, "You know what's missing?" Nobody could figure it out until he said, "The milk bottle's not down there." I think it was because they put up a stage or something.
Q: With Torii Hunter gone, who does all of the talking in here now?
JM: [Silence for a few moments]. Um, well, Red [Mike Redmond] hasn't stopped talking since he got here. Everyone's kind of feeling their way around a little bit. We have leaders in here.
Q: The manager here supposedly is a bowling hustler. Does anyone in here dare challenge Ron Gardenhire at bowling?
JM: I think (Joe) Mauer could handle him. He bowled 10 strikes in a row. He got a nine and a spare and 10 straight strikes to finish a game.
Q: Could you get Gardenhire with curling?
JM: I hope so. What is that, our third national sport?
Q: The Twins have different alternate uniforms. What if they had one that looked like the sweater available at JustinMorneau.com?
JM: Ha! That'd be pretty cool. I wish we'd just go back to the old powder blue throwback. I'd wear a hockey jersey. Might be a little baggy, a little uncomfortable, but I'd do it.
David Brown is a regular contributor to Big League Stew and writes Morning Juice, which runs Monday-Friday in the a.m. Answer Man is a regular feature on BLS.