Twins star Morneau is back hitting, and most important, healthy

NEW YORK -- Justin Morneau, the Twins star, is back. He is hitting quite a bit and smiling quite a lot, as well. No one wants to see a career spoiled in their 20s, but especially a career as great as this.

"It's nice to be up there and not be thinking how this body part feels or that body part feels,'' Morneau, the 2006 A.L. MVP who is now 30, told "I love hitting. That's what I enjoy doing. It's nice to be up there thinking about that.''

Even more than hitting, Morneau worried about his health the past couple years when concussion syndrome sympotoms sapped him of his greatness and strength and caused him to spend more time on the bench than the field in those years. He suffered a concussion in 2010, and while it didn't look traumatic at the time Morneau has had multiple concussions (he played hockey as a Canadian kid and came up as a catcher). He hit only four home runs in 288 at-bats last year, but now has four in 51 at-bats this year, including his two-homer game Wednesday night against new Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda.

Morneau is thrilled at the moment. But he is also enjoying the moment. Because he feels he can't be sure what tomorrow brings.

"I don't take anything for granted,'' Morneau, hitting .267,  up from .227 last year, said. "I'm able to enjoy every day now.  You can't predict what will happen in the future. But I feel good. I am enjoying the privilege of playing baseball and right now Im happy the way things are health-wise.''

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire knows what a long road it's been and sees the change in Morneau. Gardenire says Morneau is "really close'' to the hitter he was in his heyday when he won the MVP in 2006 and finished second in '08. Even better, he doesn't wear a look of dread.

"He has a smile on his face,'' Gardenhire said. "He's not having to deal with all that other stuff. That was the battle ... He's starting to feel like the whole package.''

The one small piece of the package that's still missing is playing first base. Gardenhire says they will take it "step by step'' in such a way that it may be awhile before Morneau retakes first base. Morneau has played one game at first base, and it's pretty clear he's the DH for the forseeable future.

The idea of moving to the DH spot came out of a spring talk between Morneau and Gardenhire, and for now manning first base for the Twins will be impressive youngster Chris Parmalee, iconic catcher Joe Mauer (who also is returning from injury and feeling better) and maybe Pirates import Ryan Doumit.

"I take pride in my defense. I think defensively I've come a long way,'' Morneau said. "The ultimate goal is to get out there, whether that be at the All-Star break or the end of the year.''

Morneau notes how important it is him for him to play first base. But of course, the most imprtant thing is his health, and that appears to be back.

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