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Morneau waits for concussion's spell to break

Twins first baseman Justin Morneau Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

FORT MYERS, FLA. - Twins first baseman Justin Morneau tried putting a positive spin on his progress Wednesday, but you could hear the impatience in his voice.

"Another day in paradise," he said, as reporters gathered around his locker at the team's spring training complex.

Nearly eight months since he suffered a concussion sliding into second base, Morneau still hasn't been cleared to play exhibition games.

Morneau flew to Pittsburgh to see a concussion specialist Tuesday, and there was talk he might return ready for game action. But Morneau said he's not quite there yet.

"Everything's still going good," he said. "We're going to continue what we're doing [in practice], and when you see me in the lineup, that's when I'm cleared for games. There's no timetable, there's nothing. Test results -- everything's still improving. It's not all the way there yet, but it's a lot closer than it was."

Morneau is the biggest question mark on a team full of question marks less than one month from the April 1 season opener. A four-time All-Star, he was batting .345 with 18 home runs, 56 RBI and a league-best .437 on-base percentage when he suffered his concussion July 7.

Manager Ron Gardenhire directed all questions about Morneau to General Manager Bill Smith, who said the team continues to target April 1 for Morneau's official return.

"We're optimistic, but we're not going to rush it," Smith said. "We've pledged patience to Justin and his family. The most important thing on our agenda is for Justin to only have to go through this one time."

Morneau turns 30 on May 15. While he went through batting practice and fielding drills Wednesday, his wife, Krista, and 5-month-old daughter, Evelyn, waited by a nearby fence alongside other fans.

Doctors have warned Morneau about the dangers of sustaining a second concussion while he's still recovering from the first one. He knows how he needs to feel before playing in his first game.

"If I'm getting through every day symptom-free, without any headaches, without any fogginess -- when we have that more than one or two days in a row, whatever it is, we'll go and hopefully get cleared [to play in games]," Morneau said. "When that is, I can't tell you. I have no idea."

After arriving in Fort Myers, Morneau predicted he'd miss the first four or five exhibition games. The Twins played their fourth Grapefruit League game Wednesday.

Other Twins have missed those games with injuries, too, including Joe Mauer (knee), Michael Cuddyer (foot) and Delmon Young (toe). But the team has very little doubt those three will be ready by Opening Day.

With Morneau, the Twins still can't be sure. And who's to say how he'll feel once he starts playing games? He acknowledged that he arrived in Florida concerned about how he'd fare outside the controlled environment he had while working out in Arizona.

Since then, he's hit home runs off Twins pitchers throwing full-speed and looked like his old self in fielding drills. Only a few hurdles remain.

"My desire is always to play, but the doctors told me they're not going to put me in any kind of danger," Morneau said. "People say, 'Oh, it's baseball, how much danger is there?' Well, who would have thought I'd be out this long from breaking up a double play?"