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  Mon, July 12, 2004


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OTTAWA LYNX




Their Futures are cloudy
Bob Elliott goes one-on-one with Canucks who want to be in Greece, not majors, in August
By BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

Justin Morneau has a feel for hitting.

The first baseman from New Westminster, B.C., who is knocking on the door of the Minnesota Twins clubhouse, has an idea where he will be next month.

"My gut feeling is that I won't be going to the Olympics," Morneau said after he went hitless in four at-bats, as his World Team was edged 4-3 by Team USA at the annual Futures Game before 34,556 fans, to kick off the all-star festivities at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

"I think the Twins will call me up," Morneau said, "I don't know anything, it's just that when clubs struggle, they make changes.

"If I had a chance, I'd rather go to the Olympics and play for Canada."

The Team Canada roster will be named Thursday, but won't be finalized until July 31, the same day as the deadline for trades without waivers, the busiest transaction day of the year.

Players usually don't make very good general managers and while Morneau is closer to the situation than most, Twins general manager Terry Ryan will decide whether Morneau is recalled.

PLENTY OF HITTERS

The Twins have plenty of hitters: Shannon Stewart, soon to come off the disabled list, who returns as the DH; Lew Ford in left (whom they are happy with) and Doug Mientkiewicz at first.

Yet, one Minneapolis paper called for Morneau to be recalled after the Twins were blanked 2-0 yesterday by the Detroit Tigers.

Morneau is hitting .306 with 22 homers and 63 RBIs at triple-A Rochester.

Morneau sports a red Canadian maple leaf on his right shoulder and hopes "to add one on my right shoulder if I go to Greece."

"I can't think of a better experience than walking into the stadium, representing my county," Morneau said.

Morneau helped Canada get to Athens, hitting .400 with five homers in Panama at the Olympic qualifier.

If Morneau is Canada's best hitting prospect going in, the best arm is lefty Jeff Francis, of Delta, B.C., who is 23-3 in 33 starts with a 1.91 earned run average since June 3, 2003, including 13-1 with a 1.98 ERA for double-A Tulsa.

Given the start, Francis overmatched the best Team USA hitters with a 1-2-3 first. He retired Chris Burke, currently hitting .325 with triple-A New Orleans in the Houston Astros system, on a fly ball to left.

TEASED

Then, the Colorado Rockies farmhand fanned shortstop B.J. Upton, the overall No. 1 pick from the 2002 draft, and DH Dallas McPherson, a second-round pick from 2001. Upton is hitting .323 for triple-A Durham (Tampa Bay Devil Rays). McPherson is hitting .355 at triple-A Salt Lake City in the Anaheim Angels organization.

His day consisted of 16 pitches, including nine strikes, and he was clocked at 91 miles per hour. His Drillers teammates teased him about being Canadian. Why tease the ace?

"I say 'org-an-I-za-tion' the Canadian way, they say 'org-an-IS-ation' " Francis said, "and for being too polite."

There was a time when the teasing stopped. It wasn't when Francis said goodbye to the Drillers -- he starts Saturday for Colorado Springs at New Orleans in his first triple-A start.

"Larry Walker showed up at Tulsa for a rehab assignment," Francis said. "No one teased me about being Canadian then."

Francis wants to go to Greece but realizes it will be the Rockies' call.

"It could go either way, I imagine a lot has to do with how I pitch at triple-A," Francis said. "I really won't know whether I'm going until I get on the plane."

Tom Runnells, who managed Francis at Tulsa, has had some major-leaguers of promise in the minors.

"I had Randy Johnson at Indianapolis, Justin Thompson at London and Chris Hammond at Chattanooga," Runnells said. "Jeff doesn't throw as hard as Johnson did, but right now he's a better pitcher than Randy was at the same age.

"He has every chance to pitch in the majors for a long, long time, he's mature and he's posed."

Right now, Team Canada fans are worried about next month.