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New West's Justin Morneau dealt by Twins to Pittsburgh Pirates
New Westminster’s Justin Morneau will get a shot at winning the World Series after being traded by the only Major League Baseball organization he’s known.
The Minnesota Twins, which drafted him in 1999 as a catcher, traded the slugging first baseman to playoff-bound Pittsburgh Pirates at the MLB waiver trade deadline. The struggling Twins decided to trade Morneau because he will become a free agent at the end of the season when his six-year, $80 million deal with the Twins expires.
The Pirates are battling for first place in the National League Central Division with the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds, but even if they don’t win the division they are almost certain to get one of two wild card playoff spots.
“You leave the only place you’ve ever known, but you come to a pennant race, and the reason everybody plays this game is to try and win a World Series,” Morneau told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “We came here to try and do that, so I can’t look at that as anything but a positive. At the same time, I have a lot of friends and family and long relationships in Minnesota. I have to leave for a little bit but there’s nothing that says I won’t ever be back there. It’s a new chapter, I think. There are a lot of positives, but it was tough leaving the only pace I’ve ever known.”
Prior to the trade, Morneau had a .259 batting average with 17 home runs and 74 runs driven in. He is a four-time all-star and was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 2006. His attractiveness to Pittsburgh increased during August when hit nine homers.
“Our guys have seen small mechanical adjustments,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington told reporters after the trade. “We’ve seen tangible reasons for why he’s hit nine home runs in the month of August, we’ve got some confidence he’ll continue to do that.”
Minnesota GM Terry Ryan made the deal with some reluctance. “It’s tough. I was around Justin a long time,” Ryan told reporters. “It was emotional for everyone involved.”
“No doubt, he was our leader,” said Twins field manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He was the one who set the table in there. When something needed to be said, Mornie always was always able to step up.”
Morneau has struggled with injuries the last few years, particularly after he suffered a concussion sliding into second base in a game in Toronto in 2011 when the knee of Blue Jays infielder John McDonald clipped Morneau’s head. The injury caused Morneau to miss most of the 2012 season.
But he told the Star-Tribune the injuries weren’t his biggest regret at leaving Minnesota.
“Not winning a World Series would be No. 1,” he said. “The injuries, though, really helped me appreciate the game. Obviously, I enjoyed the game before, but I had never really struggled before, and to come back and to battle through everything and be able to come back and play, and to just enjoy the game is something that gave me a different perspective.
“I can’t really say I regretted it. Obviously, it was unfortunate, but sometimes bad things have to happen to you before you realize how good you have it.”
In his final game with the Twins last Friday, Morneau hit the 221st home run of his career to pass Tony Oliva for third place amongst Twins home run hitters.
Asked what he wants his Twins legacy to be, Morneau told the Star-Tribune: “I think it’s kind of weird the way it worked out, that on Friday I hit a home run to pass Tony Oliva on the team list,” he said. “The numbers don’t speak for everything. I’m as proud of what I did off the field as what I did on it.
“I’m proud that you never saw my name in a DUI report or a bar fight. I was able to try and make a difference in the community and be a good role model. I don’t think I understood that early in my career, that as much as I didn’t want to be or think I was one, you learn that it’s a responsibility for all of us.
“What I’ve learned is that every day as a big-leaguer is a good day.”
Morneau is wearing No. 36 with the Pirates since his trademark No. 33 has been retired by Pittsburgh to honour Hall of Famer Honus Wagner.
He wore 33 to honour his boyhood idol former NHL goaltender Patrick Roy. It was also the number worn by Maple Ridge’s Larry Walker, a former National League MVP, in the major leagues.