By Josh Plummer
It's probably a little threadbare and grey, but then again it's the symbolism that counts.
Lurking just under the surface of an American League MVP season lies a lucky charm with a strong Canucks connection.
Justin Morneau, the kid from New Westminster who's every bit as good with a stick and a mitt as Roberto Luongo
, stood the baseball establishment on its head by taking the big prize in 2006. Though the Minnesota Twins' first baseman admits he had a little help from home.
Growing up in Canada, Morneau's a hockey fan by default. He still has an old set of goalie pads stashed in the basement of the three-storey, two-bedroom town house he shares with Twins' catcher Joe Mauer.
In fact, as a 16-year-old Morneau nearly ditched the bat for a shot at crease glory with the Portland Winter Hawks (he played one pre-season game before packing the pads away).
"Growing up I was a goalie and I always dreamed of playing in the NHL," says Morneau. "The way it ended up, baseball was a better path for me to take. But I still have a passion for hockey, even though I'm not allowed to play it in the off season anymore." CLOSE CONNECTIONS
The Twins pretty much limit their players' off-season sporting activities to golf and crazy eights, though Morneau admits he'd jump at the chance to don the pads for a little one-on-one with his buddy Wille Mitchell, a fellow BC boy from Port McNeill who spent five seasons in the Twin Cities.
The pair met last year while Mitchell was still playing for Jacques Lemaire's Wild. They've kept in touch ever since.
"It's mostly through text messages a few times a week," says Morneau. "We're often giving each other a hard time about a bad game, or something Willie had read about me in an article."
"And we usually talk about once or twice a week on the phone, trying to figure out where to make dinner reservations or what our plans are for the following evening."
The friendship hasn't waned even though Mitchell's moved back to the West Coast. In fact, Wille was skating in Vancouver when he heard the news about his buddy's MVP coup.
"Willie called and said how happy he was and congratulated me on my accomplishment," says Morneau. "Willie and his wife Megan sent me a bottle of champagne and then my girlfriend and I went out for a celebration dinner with them when we got back from Minnesota."
Mitchell's happy for his pal, and in a small way he had something to do with it - sort of. TURNING ON THE CHARM
Morneau's MLB batting average had slumped to a season low .235 at the start of the summer. His all-star charge had hit a lull and Morneau needed a shake-up. He turned to the Canucks for a spark.
"I've been a Vancouver fan for a long time and starting this past June, I wore a Canucks t-shirt under my uniform for good luck," says Morneau.
With the new Canucks threads and some extra batting practice, he went on to hit safely in 10 straight games and 26 of 27 to raise his average to .300.
On top of that - the 25-year-old from New West hit 34 home-runs, collected 130 RBI's and raised his batting average to .321, beating out perennial All-Stars Derek Jeter and David Ortiz for MVP glory.
Nobody's saying where the shirt came from - maybe it was some long-forgotten contraband that Mitchell had stashed away in the back of his locker at the Wild's practice facility.
Wherever it came from, it worked. Mitchell's not saying the lucky shirt was solely responsible for Morneau's turnaround, though as his Canucks teammates will attest, Willie's never shy about giving the gears. Morneau's no exception, though it's all in fun.
"I'm really happy for him," says Mitchell. "That's a pretty good crew he beat out in a pretty small market in Minnesota. "Sometimes there's not a lot of media attention there and he's definitely deserving. It was great to see him win."
Morneau might not be quite as popular with Minnesota fans once they catch wind of his hidden Canucks boosterism, but just as long as he keeps launching bombs out of Metrodome they'll probably look the other way.
After all, Phoenix fans aren't booing Steve Nash and that guy bleeds Canuck blue; though the sparks don't fly nearly as hot when the Canucks grapple with the Coyotes. ROOT FOR THE HOME TEAM
Morneau's not exactly sweating it. He's back in New Westminster for the holidays, relaxing with friends and family, and preparing for spring training in February.
"Obviously he's off now and we're playing, so he comes to a lot of the games," says Mitchell. "When we're off I spend some time in Minnesota because my wife's from there and I go to quite a few ball games."
Once the Major League grinds kick off again, Morneau says he'll still keep close tabs on the Canucks, even if he can't get to games. He shares a 60-inch Mitsubishi rear-projection TV with Mauer - it's good for the odd game on the dish - and he's got plenty of sources to keep him updated.
"I'll log on to canucks.com or watch highlights on TV," said Morneau, "but usually I'll just go straight to the source and call or text Willie."
Along with his workout schedule and keeping up with the Canucks - Morneau's already looking for another good luck charm for the upcoming summer.
"Maybe next year I'll have to get a Mitchell t-shirt, but I heard they're hard to come by," he says with a smile.
The big question is whether Willie's going to slip a Twins' jersey under the Canucks' blue.
Vancouverite's probably won't mind, as long as Mitchell does it justice and brings home the Norris.