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Justin Morneau

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Justin Morneau

Justin Morneau is a Canadian who’s playing an American game–and he’s playing it better than everyone else. He’s a quiet man. When he speaks, he doesn’t say a lot. He doesn’t brag. He doesn’t spout sports rhetoric. He says what he wants to say–and he gets the job done.

Justin Morneau is a Canadian who’s playing an American game–and he’s playing it better than everyone else. He’s a quiet man. When he speaks, he doesn’t say a lot. He doesn’t brag. He doesn’t spout sports rhetoric. He says what he wants to say–and he gets the job done.

The same can be said about how he plays baseball for the Minnesota Twins. Life on the road can be difficult. The hours are long, and games can be scheduled within hours of each other. When asked how he gets through times like these, his answer is simple. “You don’t really have a choice,” he says. “You just do it.” What he does is something he learned when he was very young: how to be a good athlete.

Practise What’s not Preached

Born in 1981, Morneau started playing sports at a young age. He comes from a family where sports are practised, but not preached. This may be the key to his athletic success. His parents never had to force him to play sports: “It was always just what we did. We enjoyed it.” He learned by example. Both of his parents played fast-pitch softball, and his dad played hockey, too. About the only thing that was forced on him was a daily multivitamin from his mother.

A Tough but Easy Choice

When Morneau was named New Westminster High School Athlete of the Year, he was playing baseball and hockey, with a little basketball thrown in to stay in shape over the winter. Although he admits that he “wasn’t too bad at hockey” (a modest statement–he was considered to be a professional prospect), he had, as he says, “a tough but easy choice” to make after graduation. He chose to pursue a career in baseball as it was the sport he excelled in.

The year he graduated from high school, Morneau was drafted by the Minnesota Twins. He played six minor league seasons before starting in the major leagues in 2004 as the Twins’ everyday first baseman. Then, during the winter of 2005, he had appendicitis, chicken pox, pleurisy, and pneumonia.

After that discouraging year, Morneau came back stronger than ever. He had an outstanding year when he returned to the field in 2006, and was awarded the American League Most Valuable Player by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. He was the first Canadian to win the AL’s MVP. He also won the 2006 Silver Slugger Award for first base.

Old-fashioned Work Ethic–Contemporary Fitness Regime

Aside from Morneau’s personal glory, baseball has had some bad exposure. The achievements of some high-profile, record-setting players have been attributed to banned substances. The sport is still reeling and dealing with this issue. So it’s reassuring to hear of an elite athlete who is proving himself the old-fashioned way–with hard work.

Yet the hard work he’s doing is hardly old fashioned. Morneau and his teammates use functional fitness to improve their strength and balance. Instead of lifting barbells and dumbbells during their three-day workout cycle, they use their body weight on the first day for full-body lifts; they do core work—using tubing, balance balls, and balance boards–on day two; and they rest on day three. During the winter, the team has incorporated snowshoeing as part of their aerobic training regimen.

You aren’t What You Eat

Life on the road makes it difficult to eat a healthy diet. When back home in BC, Morneau chooses organic when he shops. But when he’s with the team, there isn’t much choice.

“You can eat as bad as you want to. But there is some good stuff there.” Before each game, Morneau carbo-loads with pasta and a plate of fruit. Sometime during the sixth or seventh inning, he refuels with a protein bar. He eats a meaty sandwich before batting practice, and he takes whey protein after his workouts. He fuels up the old-fashioned way…with protein.

But along with the good comes the bad. The clubhouse boasts a Slurpee machine, racks of candy, and four fridges full of pop. This is not only ironic because the team’s success depends on his and his teammates’ health and fitness, but it is also environmentally irresponsible: when the players are finished drinking their pop, they throw the empty cans in the garbage–no recycling option is offered.

Tread Softly (on the earth) and Swing a Big Stick

Morneau is disturbed by this lack of environmental responsibility that he sees at sports stadiums throughout the US. His environmental concerns have led him to the Waterkeeper Alliance, a network of organizations led by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose mandate is to protect communities, ecosystems, and water quality in order to safeguard watersheds worldwide.

The Same but Colder

It’s not unusual for a Canadian to be living in the US. What is unusual is that he’s playing and excelling at the American national pastime: baseball. Morneau says, “There’s camaraderie among the Canadian players. When you go to other cities, and you see other Canadian guys…it’s like you already know them, even if you’ve never met.”

Asked about how living in the US compares to life in Canada, Morneau answered that Minnesota is not too much different from BC. The people are friendly, and they enjoy hockey, too. What the two places have in common is miserable winter weather. Although they do boast four seasons, the winters can be quite severe (-16 C). Like British Columbians, Minnesotans look forward to summer–and baseball.

He Just Does It

Who knows what this summer might hold for Morneau after spring training at Fort Myers (which he jokingly calls “Fort Misery”)? He knows that he’s playing again for the Minnesota Twins, that he’s the MVP, and that, despite his shy disposition, he’ll be garnering a lot more attention. This time around, though, he’s getting paid considerably more–to just do it.

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