Dan Cook, WCCO Radio
A former Twins slugger came home Monday night, while the man currently leading the Twins in home runs tried to show off his skills for a national audience.
Justin Morneau returned to Target Field for the first time since being traded last August, and was greeted with a rousing ovation. Something he thought he was prepared for based on the number of Twins fans who were in Denver over the weekend for the series between the Rockies and Twins.
“It was crazy how many Twins fans were in Denver this weekend. It was probably half and half,” Morneau said prior to the Derby. “Being introduced before the first game I got a pretty nice ovation there which made me feel pretty good. So it’ll be hard to see how it’s gonna be tonight. I’m looking forward to it.”
Morneau hit fifth for the National League and hit two dingers, tying him for third place with Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier, which sent them to a swing-off.
Sadly for Twins fans – who were on their feet for every swing of Morneau’s first round and the swing-off – he was unable to connect in the extra round and failed to advance to the second round.
“I think I was more nervous in the swing-off than I was when I went up there for the regular seven swings,” Morneau said, “When you hit a homer then you get another swing, but there [in the swing-off] it’s kind of do or die. He [Frazier] got it done and I didn’t. But it’s an experience I’ll always remember.”
After the game, Morneau talked about how emotional the homecoming was.
“Yeah that was pretty amazing,” Morneau said. “I was real close to getting tears in the eyes there at the beginning. It’s hard to prepare yourself for something like that. But the reception was awesome.”
Brian Dozier was trying to play it cool at Monday’s press conference, but was clearly excited for the evening’s festivities.
“I’m just putting on a show for the cameras,” Dozier joked when asked about his calm demeanor. “No, I am relaxed. I know I’m going to be nervous. If you’re not nervous you shouldn’t be out there.”
Dozier grew up idolizing stars in the Home Run Derby and is excited about what these festivities mean for the community.
“I used to have a poster of Ken Griffey, Jr., in the Home Run Derby above my bed,” Dozier said before the event. “There’s a lot of good memories and stuff. This is a fun week for everybody with everything going on in the community and Twins fans, everybody here in Minneapolis and across the world who speak baseball – this is a fun event and tonight should be fun too.”
Dozier got a loud ovation when he was introduced and was treated to a loud “DOZ-IER, DOZ-IER, DOZ-IER” chant as he batted in the first round.
“The crowd was electric,” Dozier said afterward. “They started chanting, ‘Dozier’ and that’s probably one of the most highlighted moments of my career or life to be honest with you. Chills came over my body and everything. It was pretty cool.”
He was able to park two in the left-field seats before he recorded the seven “outs” each batter was allowed. Unfortunately that wasn’t good enough for him to advance beyond the first round as he finished fifth among American League hitters.
After the Derby, Dozier admitted that like Morneau, he was feeling nervous out there.
“It’s probably the most nervous I’ve been in a very long time, to be honest with you,” Dozier said. “Even probably tops my debut.”
At the end of the night, Dozier was just thrilled to be a part of the celebration.
“Like I said, it’s one of the most highlighted things in my career so far,” Dozier said. “The applause I got leading up to it and stuff, that means a lot. Some of the best fans in baseball in my opinion. I’m just glad I got to represent the Twins in all of this. It was pretty fun.”
The evening may have ended with Athletics slugger Yoenis Cespedes defending his Home Run Derby title, but for most of the Twins fans in attendance, the takeaway memories will be the thrills of cheering on two of their favorites – the old and the new.