Last week prior to the beginning of Twins Fest at Target Field, former Twins first baseman Justin Morneau formally announced his retirement. Morneau, who didn’t play anywhere in 2017, said it’s kind of funny, but the game oftentimes tells you when it’s time to be finished.
And ironically, he took his final at-bat in a Chicago White Sox uniform at Target Field on Oct. 2, 2016. Now, he’s back in the Twins family, as he not only announced his retirement, but that he was joining the Twins a special assistant in the baseball operations department.
Morneau will be involved with the power trio of Michael Cuddyer, Torii Hunter and LaTroy Hawkins in spring training, instructional programs and visiting minor-league affiliates and will also help develop the culture within the organization moving forward. He will also be a part of the amateur draft process and also be a resource for player acquisition.
“I think I can speak for the Morneau family as well as the Twins family that we also appreciate the opportunity to celebrate a glorious playing career,” said team president Dave St. Peter. “But in addition to that, we’re celebrating a return for Justin, (his wife) Krista and the entire family back into the Twins family as we move forward.
“Justin Morneau is one of the most significant players in the history of this franchise,” St. Peter concluded.
Morneau began his remarks by saying that when he was at Joe Nathan’s retirement presser last summer, he told himself he was never ever going to do that. “I’m never going to go sit up there and talk about myself,” he said. “It’s just something I don’t want to do.” Yet there Morneau was, in the Kirby Puckett atrium in the Legend’s Club bidding baseball adieu and re-introducing himself to the Twins.
Morneau spoke for about a half hour, and for the most part was his typical stoic self. He appeared a bit emotional at times — especially when talking about what the game meant to him, and his family and also about his return from the concussion that waylaid his career in 2010 — but he also kept it light by recounting a story where he brought his daughter to school that morning.
“I was driving my daughter to school this morning and I said “You know, can you tell me any of the lessons I’ve taught you?”” he said. “One of the important things to me is being humble. You need to be humble. It’s very important. People don’t want to listen to you talk about yourself. If you’re good, people will notice. If you’re doing things the right way, people will notice.”
“And I looked in the mirror,” he continued, “and I could see her sitting in the middle of the back seat. I said, “Do you understand what I’m saying?””
“I wasn’t listening to you,” his daughter said, which elicited some chuckles from the assembled media, friends and family in attendance.
Another hearty laugh was emitted by the crowd when team owner Jim Pohlad took the opportunity to ask Justin a question. Earlier in the press conference, Morneau recounted how he’d learned to hit by playing baseball in the yard, with a deck and trees used as natural barriers for homers, ground-rule doubles and that sort of thing.
“Justin, congratulations. I know I said that and I know you take it as a mixed message, but I thank you for your words and I know it came from the heart,” Pohlad said. “And I want to thank you and Krista for making such a commitment to Minnesota, beyond just the Minnesota Twins. I know your home is here and you’ve meant a lot to the community. I did, however, learn one interesting thing, and I have a question about that.
“What I was interested to learn was that during your wiffleball days was that you learned how to hit with green trees as your backdrop….” Pohlad said as the room busted up with laughter over the reported story that Morneau, among others, wanted the trees removed from the center field berm at Target Field after 2010 because it made for a bad batter’s eye view. “I’ll accept the deferral to Joe (Mauer) on that one, if you want,” Pohlad said with a light-hearted laugh.
“I don’t know what to say about that,” Morneau deadpanned as the room cracked up. “We won 98 games that year too, or something like that?” “Best record and home record in the American League,” St. Peter chimed in.
“There’s just some things you can’t get away from,” Morneau said with a smile.
Also in attendance for the conference were former Wild player Mark Parrish, former teammate Joe Mauer and former teammate and fellow countryman Corey Koskie, who took the microphone near the end of the question-and-answer period and dropped some interesting tidbits about Morneau.
“I want to make sure everyone hears this,” Koskie said as the attention shifted to the right side of the room. “I knew Justin when he got drafted. Justin came across as a skinny little Canadian kid when he came out from British Columbia. Like I say, he was a wanna-be hockey player that ended up falling upon baseball. But when Justin talked about his character, I saw Justin evolve as a human being through the course of his time with the Twins.
“And that’s the one thing I can say that I’m proud of him for. That’s how he grew as a man — as a family man. When Krista came in his life and they raised a family, and just seeing him with his family and where he came from as a young rookie and some of the choices he was making back then was….let’s say I didn’t agree with them. But to watch him grow and evolve as a man and a human being through the course of his time with the Minnesota Twins — and the Twins were a big part of that — but the one thing the organization has always done has been character. (Tom Kelly) always said if you get the right guys on the field, we’re going to make the right choices for the guys versus the organization, where we make the right choices for the human beings. Everything else will work out. I just want to emphasize him as a character and a human being and how he’s grown, and how proud I am of him in that aspect.”
It was announced as part of the Twins media luncheon that Johan Santana was elected to Twins Hall of Fame. Despite the fact that he fell off the BBWAA ballot with under 5 percent of the vote and still hasn’t officially retired — despite not having pitched in a big-league game since Aug. 17, 2012 — he’ll be honored on Saturday, Aug. 4 when the Twins take on the Kansas City Royals at Target Field.
For what it’s worth, Santana was terrific against the Royals in his career, going 12-3 with a 3.60 ERA in 18 starts with 152 strikeouts in 140 innings (9.8 K/9).
Santana spent eight of his 12 MLB seasons with the Twins, and for the four years he was a full-time starter, he was absolutely dazzling. From 2004 — his first Cy Young year — until his last with the Twins in 2007, Santana was 70-32 with a 2.89 ERA, 9.7 K/9 and a WHIP of 0.99.
“The Minnesota Twins are thrilled with the election of Johan Santana to the Twins Hall of Fame,” St. Peter said. “Johan’s brilliant career – defined by two Cy Young Awards, his devastating change-up and incredible athleticism – make him one of the greatest pitchers of his generation. He’s richly deserving of this special honor.”
The Twins also hired Jim Kaat hired as a special assistant, though his role will be different than Morneau’s. According to a team release, Kaat will engage in various Twins community and business initiatives both in Minnesota as well as Southwest Florida. He joins fellow Twins legends Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, Kent Hrbek and Tom Kelly in this role with the Minnesota franchise.
Kaat was part of the Senators/Twins franchise from 1959-73, and retired after the 1983 season with a stunning 25 years of MLB service. Kaat, along with Tommy John, preceded Bert Blyleven as a color commentator on the Twins’ broadcasts on Midwest Sports Channel — the predecessor of Fox Sports North — and he’s called national telecasts for CBS as well as Yankees games and the occasional appearance on MLB Network.
“The Twins organization is thrilled to have Jim Kaat back on board,” St. Peter said. “Jim’s history with this franchise as well as our game is rich and legendary. It’s special to have this opportunity to bring him back home to the community and region he loves so much.”
Former Cleveland Indians interim manager Joel Skinner was hired as the next manager for Triple-A Rochester recently. Skinner takes over for Mike Quade — who remains in the organization as a roving outfield instructor — who had managed the Red Wings for three seasons. Skinner and Quade both have major-league managerial experience.
Skinner took over reins of the Indians in July 2002 after Charlie Manuel was fired during a contract dispute. Skinner was a candidate to take over the job permanently, but instead remained on the staff for seven more seasons with Eric Wedge before Manny Acta took over.
“When the Twins contacted me and asked if I was interested in the Rochester job, I said absolutely. For sure,” Skinner said at his introductory press conference. “This level of baseball is something I’ve been a part of and is a level of ball that people in this room understand is the major leagues. There’s no more joy that I get than calling a guy into a room and tell them they’re going to Minnesota. It’s something I take a lot of pride in and it’s something we can enjoy as a team. To be part of that is a real honor for me.”
Skinner grew up in San Diego, but he and his wife Jennifer make their home in Cleveland.
Skinner was asked about his excitement level of being involved with the Twins, a team that exceeded expectations in 2017 and appears to be on the upswing. “I’ve spent a lot of time in the American League Central over my career,” he said. “It’s a division that’s very healthy from the standpoint of the Indians and the Twins. It’s good to see the way the Twins are young and vibrant. You’ve seen all the players come through here. It’s a young core of position players that both leagues are jealous about. They’re on the cusp of doing big things.”
- The Twins signed minor-league deals with infielders Andy Wilkins and Jermaine Curtis and right-handed pitchers Omar Bencomo, Matt Magill and Tanner Kiest. According to Detroit News, Kiest set the record for the fastest pitch thrown in the United Shore Professional Baseball League last season at 99 mph. He struck out 87 batters in 48 innings for the Eastside Diamond Hoppers.
- Former Twins left-handed pitcher Caleb Thielbar signed a minor-league deal with the Detroit Tigers. It’s been quite a collection of former Twins in Detroit on all fronts. Thielbar joins Niko Goodrum on the player side of things.
- The Twins unveiled plans for a new fan experience in the right-field corner. According to team release, highlights include the creation of Bat & Barrel, a new gathering space open to all fans. There will also be an expanded main concourse near the right-field foul pole intersection of Gates 29 and 34. ”The Minnesota Twins are incredibly excited to unveil more details surrounding these major enhancements to the Target Field experience for the 2018 season,” St. Peter said. “Bat & Barrel promises to be another highly memorable destination within the ballpark, while the main concourse revisions create meaningful ingress and egress improvements for a huge majority of our fans. Both projects are rooted in a commitment to make Target Field better – each and every year.”