Morneau caps trifecta

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:15 PM ET

The World Baseball Classic was in its infancy. The first official pitch had not been thrown in anger.

Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, on the other hand, was late for a Team Canada workout.

Manager Ernie Whitt watched, shook his head and, sounding a lot like Jed Clampett watching Jethro come up from the cee-ment pond, said, "Some day I'm going to have to have a long talk with that boy."

The Blue Jays bench coach did have a long talk with Morneau prior to the Twins' final game of the opening series, April 6 at the Rogers Centre.

And yesterday, after many talks, many extra hours in the batting cage and hitting until his blisters had blisters, Morneau was voted the American League Most Valuable Player, a decision which sat well everywhere west of the Hudson River.

The win by the New Westminster, B.C., slugger capped a seasonal MVP trifecta of voting for Canada. Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash, of Victoria, B.C., won MVP honours in the NBA and San Jose Sharks centre Joe Thornton, of St. Thomas, Ont., won the NHL Hart Trophy as league MVP.

"What great news ... that's outstanding! Good for him," an excited Whitt said from Clinton Township, Mich., when told the news.

Asked about that day in Dunedin and that night a couple of weeks later after the WBC had been put to bed and Whitt had spoken to Morneau, the Jays coach downplayed the talk.

"I didn't do a thing, the kid did all the work, he did it all," Whitt said. "We did talk about his need to work hard like in Panama (2003). Back then he'd take 100 ground balls a day.

"I told him just because you make it to the majors doesn't mean you have it made."

After hitting .208 in April, Morneau finished with a .321 mark, 34 homers and 130 RBIs. He was second in RBIs behind David Ortiz, seventh in average and 12th in the AL in homers. Runner-up Derek Jeter batted .344 with 14 homers and 97 RBIs.

On a great day for Canadian baseball, Morneau received 15 first-place votes, including those of Allan Ryan of the Toronto Star and Larry Millson of the Globe and Mail.

"I didn't really sleep that well last night. I kind of woke up. I don't usually get too nervous about this kind of thing," Morneau told the Associated Press last night. "You want to get it over with."

Morneau picked up eight second-place votes, three thirds and two fourths for 320 points from 28 voting members -- two per city -- of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Jeter received 12 firsts, 14 seconds, one fourth and one sixth for 306 points.

The margin of victory was 14 points. Morneau is the first Canuck to win the MVP award since the Colorado Rockies' Larry Walker of Maple Ridge, B.C., won in 1997.

"Morneau was a tough out when I faced him," said former Jays reliever Justin Speier, now with the Angels. "He's got a Tony Gwynn swing -- he hits the ball everywhere, but at the same time he has Vernon Wells pop.

"Not many guys have both average and power going for them."

HIT IT BIG

Morneau played for coaches Ari Melliois and Mike Kelly with the North Delta Blue Jays until being selected in the third round of the 1999 draft by Twins scout Howie Norsetter. This weekend Morneau will really hit it big as the marshall of the Hyack Santa Claus Parade of Lights.

This spring when Team Canada gathered in Dunedin, someone asked Morneau how things were.

"Fine, but somebody has my number," Morneau scoffed in mock indignation. Morneau usually wears No. 33 and has the numbers tattooed in red on his left shoulder. Walker, a coach with Team Canada, was wearing the number.

Walker phoned Morneau as the first baseman arrived at the Metrodome for a news conference yesterday.

"He wanted to call and say congrats," Morneau said. "He said, 'You wait, it will be crazy.' He said he thought he was more excited than I was."

The baton has been passed.

From No. 33 to No. 33.

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AMERICAN LEAGUE MVP VOTING

Top 5 and Blue Jays in voting for the American League Most Valuable Player award, with first-, second- and third-place votes and total points on a 14-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis:

Player 1st 2nd 3rd Total

Justin Morneau, Min 15 8 3 320

Derek Jeter, N.Y. 12 14 -- 306

David Ortiz, Bos -- 1 11 193

Frank Thomas, Oak -- 3 4 174

Jermaine Dye, Chi -- 1 2 156

Vernon Wells, Tor -- -- -- 3

Troy Glaus, Tor -- -- -- 1


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