FORT MYERS, Fla. — When it comes to his concussion, Justin Morneau is getting out of the predicting business.
He's tried to set benchmarks and barometers before, only to become frustrated when those came and went without the progress he wanted to see.
He was injured in Toronto on July 7 and, at first, he figured he'd be back by the All-Star game. Then it was September. Finally, when he wasn't able to play in the postseason, the Minnesota Twins star first baseman finally started to come to grips with the fact that recovery from this injury was out of his control.
"There was the goal of the playoffs, and there was the goal of all the rest of it, but it's been a battle all winter," Morneau said Monday, a day before Twins position players were due to report for spring training. "We've done everything, I think, possible to try and take care of this thing and be ready. But whenever it's ready, it's ready."
More than seven months after he was injured while sliding into second base, Morneau said he is feeling better. He has resumed baseball activities, but still feels a few lingering symptoms. He will likely miss the first four or five exhibition games as he eases his way back into things and still hopes to be ready for opening day on April 1.
He still feels a little foggy on occasion after a strenuous workout, which is why he isn't speaking in absolutes when it comes to his timeline anymore.
"Wouldn't say it's 100 percent yet, but I think it's as close as I can get," Morneau said. "It's just trying to get over that final hump."
Doctors have yet to clear him for full game activity, but he is able to face live pitching in batting practice and go through the rigors of a daily spring training workout.
The real tests will begin Wednesday, the first day of full-squad workouts. Morneau is eager to see just how much progress he has made. He has been swinging a bat, taking grounders and working out in his offseason home in Arizona, but now is when he'll get going full speed.
"However long it takes, it is what it is," Morneau said. "As much as we'd like to be ready to play (games) today, it's got its own timeline. It hasn't ever been up to me."
He plans to wear a helmet during batting practice — both in the field and in the batting cage — until he is completely cleared. Once he is, he will wear the newer, more protective batting helmet at the plate. But he said he doesn't plan to wear one in the field.
"If something crazy happens before we're cleared, it might be a bad situation," Morneau said. "Odds of that are very slim, but may has well not take that chance, so I think we'll do that. When it comes to game time and I'm cleared, I'll be out there, hopefully, playing like everyone else."
Morneau was having an MVP-caliber season — .345, 18 homers, 56 RBIs — when he got hurt against the Blue Jays, and the Twins sorely missed his bat in the lineup and his calming presence in the clubhouse during a three-game sweep by the Yankees in the postseason.
Joe Mauer knows how eager Morneau is to return, so the catcher has been gently reminding his good buddy to take things slow in the early going.
"Let's make sure he's ready for April," Mauer said. "If he comes out and takes it easy in spring, I'm fine with that. I'd much rather have him hitting and playing in games in April than in February or March."
Morneau's work ethic is unquestioned, and the organization sometimes has wondered whether he was working too hard in spring training. Before the concussion in 2010, Morneau missed the final month of 2009 with a back injury and rarely took days off during the season.
Watching his teammates struggle in the postseason without him two years in a row, and the long-term health concerns that come with concussions, may have finally been enough to make him take a new look at his routine.
"I've been around long enough now that taking 20 extra ground balls a day isn't really going to make a difference," he said. "I'm not 20 or 21 anymore. It is what it is at first base and I kind of am what I am as a hitter. Obviously, you can always improve, but right now that's the goal, the goal is to be ready for opening day."
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