Ice coursing through veins

Baseball may be how Minnesota Twins' Justin Morneau pays the bills, but his fantasy remains hockey....

Baseball may be how Minnesota Twins' Justin Morneau pays the bills, but his fantasy remains hockey. (Toronto Sun File/Fred Thornhill)

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:42 AM ET

Justin Morneau's cellphone rings once, twice, three, four, five times until a familiar recording of a woman's voice says:

"You have been forwarded to an automated messaging system ..."

"Wayne Gretzky," Morneau's recorded voice interjects.

"... is not available," continues the tape, "please leave your message at the tone."

Frustrated goalie Morneau, like Larry Walker and Corey Koskie all were goalies in their teens. Now, Morneau, like Walker, are the only two Canadians to win a most valuable player award in the majors. The Minnesota Twins first baseman edged Derek Jeter, of the New York Yankees, this past season.

Baseball may be how Morneau pays the bills, but his fantasy remains a split save. It was originally thought he wore uniform No. 33 to honour Walker, of Maple Ridge, B.C., but in fact, it is for Montreal Canadiens goalie Patrick Roy.

Morneau, a graduate of the Baseball Canada national junior team program, makes the trip from New Westminster, B.C. for Baseball Canada's fifth annual fundraiser banquet tomorrow at the Renaissance Hotel at Rogers Centre.

How much of a hockey fan is Morneau? After the Twins beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-2 on June 18, he flew to Raleigh, N.C., on his off day to watch Game 7 of the Stanley Cup, where he hung out with Edmonton Oilers goalie Dwayne Roloson.

"Justin lives in Phoenix in the off-season and I met him for dinner before one of our games," said Roloson, who played for the Minnesota Wild at the time and was dealt to Edmonton at the 2006 trade deadline.

"Ron Gardenhire (Twins manager) gave him permission to go to our game, he told him to 'see what it takes to win and bring back the Cup.' Unfortunately we couldn't."

The Carolina Hurricanes won Game 7, 3-1 over the Oilers.

"It was a great experience to have him there," Roloson said yesterday. "He came to our pre-game skate, like our batting practice. After the skate he came into the room and checked our the (goalie) equipment.

"He wished he could get a new set. We have to get him in Oiler colours, he has those Wild colours (green and white)."

While the Hurricanes sipped champagne, the Oilers gathered with their families in a hotel for a post-game spread.

"Justin was there," Roloson said. "We might have had a soda pop or two."

And the next morn as the Oilers flew home, Morneau headed for Houston to join the Twins.

"If I remember, he handled the extra travel okay, he hit a walk-off homer," Roloson said. Sure enough, Roloson's memory checks ... Morneau had two hits, including his a home to left-centre field leading off the 10th to give the Twins a 6-5 win over the Houston Astros.

During the World Baseball Classic in March, Morneau organized a ball hockey game for Team Canada. He was not voted as one of the game's three stars.

"I've never had the chance to see him with pads on," Roloson said. "Gardenhire won't let him suit up in season. Sad part is, he probably catches with his other hand."

As for the MVP award, Morneau received 15 first-place votes (Jeter had 12) to outpoint the Yankees shortstop 320-306.

"Remember in August everyone was talking David Ortiz-Jeter, or Jeter-Ortiz for MVP?" Jays manager John Gibbons said. "I told guys, check out Morneau's numbers.

"At the end of the season, his number were as good as anyone. He rightfully deserved that award."

Morneau hit .321 with 34 homers and 130 RBIs and his win was celebrated from B.C. to the Baseball Canada offices in Ottawa to the Oilers locker room.

"One reason I so ecstatic he won was how he handled it," Roloson said. "You'd never know that he won. He keeps things simple."


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