Morneau doubles in return to field for Twins

Morneau doubles in return to field for Twins

Morneau doubles in return to field for Twins
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It was a sight that Twins fans had grown accustomed to seeing in recent years -- Justin Morneau lacing a double down the right-field line.

But on Tuesday morning, that sight took on special significance because it's been eight months since Morneau had even played in a game.

For the first time since suffering a concussion on July 7, Morneau returned to action in a "B" game against the Pirates on Tuesday on a back field at the Lee County Sports Complex. Morneau started at first base against the Pirates and batted cleanup in the lineup. He went 1-for-2 with a three-run double, and he played four innings at first base.

The first baseman had been awaiting clearance from his doctor to begin playing in games this spring. On Monday, exactly eight months after he suffered his concussion, Morneau spoke with the doctor for an hour on the phone. His doctor, who is located in Pittsburgh, gave Morneau the assurance that he needed to make the decision that he was ready to get back out on the field for a game.

"The doctor said that I'm not at risk more than anyone else that's out there," Morneau said. "So that's kind of what it came down to."

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A loud cheer rang out from the crowd, which was filled with around 200 fans, media, scouts and family members, when Morneau took the field at first for the start of the game. It was clear how much the day meant to Morneau and his family as Morneau's wife, Krista, and their five-month-old daughter, Evelyn, were in attendance for what was a big step in his long recovery from the injury.

"Just to be standing out there puts a smile on your face," said Morneau, still donning that same smile as he spoke with reporters afterward. "I think I was talking a little more than I normally do out there. I think I was wearing [second baseman Luke Hughes] out out there, just making sure he knew he had the popups over there. But yeah, it was a good feeling."

Morneau has endured quite a few ups and downs since suffering a concussion in Toronto last season, where he was accidentally kneed in the head by Blue Jays shortstop John McDonald during a slide into second base.

The concussion ended what had started off as an MVP-type season in 2010 for Morneau, who batted .345 with 18 home runs and 56 RBIs in 81 games.

Morneau's return to the field on Tuesday came as a slight surprise, because he was not written into the starting lineup for the "B" game that was posted inside the Twins' clubhouse on Tuesday morning. After Morneau decided Monday night that he was ready to play, manager Ron Gardenhire made plans to have the first baseman in the lineup for the early game, but he decided to keep the news quiet so that Morneau had time to prepare without much attention focused on him.

And even some of Morneau's teammates didn't know that he was playing until they saw him get dressed in his uniform for the contest.

"It was neat that everyone was so excited for [Morneau], including the fans," said right-hander Kevin Slowey, who started the "B" game. "As a family in here, we were excited for him and excited to just see he was continuing to progress. I don't know if you read any more into it than he got a chance to get out there, but it was definitely neat to see."

Morneau said he played with no restrictions in the contest. He saw three pitches in his first at-bat of the game in the first inning and grounded into a fielder's choice.

In the third inning, Morneau came up with the bases loaded and no outs and lined a bases-clearing double off Pirates pitcher Bryan Morris down the right-field line. Morneau's active day on the basepaths continued when he scored from second on Trevor Plouffe's bloop hit to center, sliding feet first into home even though the play at the plate wasn't close.

"It's still a process," Morneau said. "I played [four] innings over there, and I asked [Gardenhire] if it was the eighth. It's one of those things where it's going to take some time to get back into game shape and all the rest of it. But as far as the brain goes, we're hopefully past all the symptoms and all the rest of that stuff. Hopefully, we're where we need to be."

Morneau wore sunglasses in the field and at the plate during Tuesday's contest, although he said that he doesn't expect that to continue once the Twins leave the bright Florida sun behind.

The plan now is for Morneau to take Wednesday off, when the Twins play the Orioles in Sarasota, Fla., and he said that he could possibly play in Thursday's home game against the Blue Jays. Gardenhire said he'll check with Morneau to see how he's feeling and that "day by day" they'll slowly work him into a schedule.

The first baseman said he felt good after the game. But as has been the case throughout his recovery from the concussion, he said that he'd know more a few hours after the game.

Still, Tuesday certainly marked a big step for Morneau and he was asked if he feels the concussion is behind him now that he's back in game action.

"Cautiously optimistic is a good way to describe it," Morneau said. "I've been through so many ups and downs with this thing. I thought I was good. I thought I was perfect, and obviously, the data didn't support that. This time, the data supports that and the tests and everything else. It gives me a little bit more [confidence].

"When I see myself in the lineup on April 1 and we're running out there as a team, that will be when I'm 100 percent confident that I'm ready."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for Read her blog, Kelly's Corner and follow her on Twitter at kellythesier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.