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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Justin Morneau and the "Honeymoon Period"

All the reports have been great. He woke up early for the first day of training camp, lost a little weight, has participated in all drills, and stands ready, today, to play in back-to-back games. From the little that I have watched, he appears healthy (if a little thin) and alert, and his swing looks as good as it did at any point last year (maybe that's not saying a lot, but you have to take the positives where they come). In short, if you didn't know any better, Justin Morneau looks like any other baseball player getting ready for the 2012 season. But we do know better, and so does Justin.

At the beginning of many romantic relationships, there is the so-called "honeymoon period." You know -- that time when everything feels just great, you think that you've found the perfect partner, and believe that nothing will ever change. **Cue the Tony Bennett music and the sounds of birds chirping** Well, for most couples, even those that persevere, the honeymoon periods ends at some point. Some of those things that were once cute and funny about your partner eventually became annoying; you realize that they aren't, in fact, perfect; and sometimes they simply drive you nuts.

I'm worried that some Twins fans, myself included, are in the midst of a honeymoon period -- another honeymoon period -- with Justin Morneau. The pure Twins fan in me, the human side of me, wants more than anything to see him just have a healthy season, whether he bats .245 or .345. That same side of me craves Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, ESPN and AP articles that support that belief. I even look for pictures, like the picture below, to provide documentation for the proposition that Morneau is, in fact, healthy and in Florida.

Pioneer Press photographer Chris Polydoroff captures Justin
Morneau and, is that Joe Mauer catching a bullpen session?
 Even watching the Twins-Red Sox game a couple nights ago, I was looking for the positive in everything that Morneau did. In his first at-bat that ended with a routine ground out to second base, I focused instead on the hard foul he hit down the right field line ("he made solid contact there," I told my wife). Even on defense, when he threw a ball into a runner going to second base, I thought, "well, at least it was a good pick-up to make the play at first base." Clearly, I'm still in the honeymoon period. Who knows what I'm going to think if/when he actually does start to hit home runs and doubles, and if he reemerges as the great defensive first baseman that he had worked so hard to become.

The realist in me -- the part of me that is an analyst, and, well, an adult -- is worried about what happens when that honeymoon period ends. I know it's inevitable at some point. The head, the wrist, or the knees, are bound to act up. Or some other, not-yet-existing injury, could come to light. Even if Morneau is reasonably healthy, there eventually will be some sort of headline after a game or workout, reading, "Morneau to take Thursday off, citing wrist pain." What will we think then? Probably the worst -- and with good reason. There have been very few issues for Morneau in the last couple years that have not become serious, to the point of eventually requiring surgery or time on the disabled list.

But for right now, this fan is content living in the delusional honeymoon period. It's March, it's sunny in Florida, and Opening Day is now less than a month away.

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