FORT MYERS, FLA. – The Twins were in Sarasota on Saturday to face the Orioles, leaving Justin Morneau — special instructor Justin Morneau now — to spend the day on Field 3 running drills with the players not on the trip.
“We didn’t have enough guys because the team was out on the road,” Morneau said. “So I did pitcher’s fielding practice with the guys and took some ground balls.”
The familiar spring training routine got the juices flowing. But there was no batting practice for No. 33 on Saturday.
“To do all of that — and not get to hit — I was like, ‘I might as well be pitching,’ ” he joked.
Field 3 means a lot to Morneau. It’s where he spent hours and hours refining his fielding and hitting, the sweat equity paying off with a 2006 American League MVP Award. Just walking back there got Morneau thinking about the past — although he’s in his first year as a spring training coach, in charge of younger players’ futures.
Morneau is joining Torii Hunter, LaTroy Hawkins and Michael Cuddyer as special assistants to baseball operations. The former All-Stars are coaches in camp, then will assist in a variety of ways during the regular season, like scouting for the draft, offering input on players the Twins might trade for and mentoring current Twins players.
And Morneau, 36, has a wealth of experience to offer following a career which included, in addition to the MVP award, winning five division titles with the Twins and playing in 13 postseason games. He also came back from a concussion suffered in 2010 to win a batting title with Colorado in 2014.
The joke in camp among the coaches was that Morneau, who announced his retirement shortly before TwinsFest, would try to sneak into the batting cage. Other than hitting a couple of balls with a fungo bat, he has resisted.
He hasn’t held back his opinions, however, or his willingness to offer advice.
“It’s been fun,” he said. “Learning as I go and trying to also pass along what I have learned and what I know. It’s hard because guys get so much information, so you try not to overload. I’m trying to find that balance, to get my point across and get guys to trust me or listen to what I’m saying.”
His role can evolve as he discovers what the right fit for him is. But, for now, he wants to work with younger players to see if he can accelerate the development curve.
He is using himself as an example of a player who sometimes got in his own way.
“I was so analytical as a player. I tweaked so much and really overthought most things,” Morneau said. “I’m trying to not make it too confusing because I felt that sometimes I made it too confusing on myself. Do as I say, not as I did.”
One player Morneau has spent time with in camp is outfielder Max Kepler, someone in whom he sees a lot of potential. Kepler batted .243 with 19 home runs and 69 RBI last season, and struggled at times to make adjustments. Morneau already has offered a couple of swing tips.
“I like his swing, and I try to help him along in his development,” Morneau said. “He’s a guy who didn’t have a lot of at-bats growing up and might still be a little behind as far as experience goes. So I’m trying to help him along a little bit to refine the approach.”
Morneau, except for one drill, has been focused on excelling in his new role. Fellow instructors such as Hunter have noted how Morneau has asked plenty of questions about coaching philosophies and how to connect with players.
“He was down here for our organizational meetings in early January,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “He was like the new kid. His eyes were open. He asked a ton of questions in small meetings and large meetings. He’s eager to learn.
“I was talking to him [last week] during our fundamental drills and he had things he asked about. I think he wants to see what he’s challenged by and see where it takes him, kind of like Torii’s first year here.
“I hope he’s not too tempted to jump into a cage or anything.”