MINNEAPOLIS -- For Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau, the chance to participate in the Gillette Home Run Derby was an opportunity to finally say good-bye and thanks to fans of the Twins, the organization he had spent his entire career with until he was traded to Pittsburgh on Aug. 30 of last season.
Morneau, who makes his home in the Twin Cities, signed a free-agent contract with the Colorado Rockies during the offseason, and Monday was the first time he has been back to Target Field since he was traded.
Rockies teammate Troy Tulowitzki captained the National League Derby team and said early on he would like to invite Morneau, even if he didn't win the NL Final Vote for the final spot on the All-Star team. Morneau initially said he would not participate if he didn't make the All-Star team, but he reconsidered after finishing second to Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo in the Final Vote.
"I left the door open, and with the support I got in Colorado and Minnesota, I felt it was right for me to accept the [Home Run Derby] invitation," he said. "It's the first chance I had to go back and acknowledge the fans."
It also was the first chance the fans had to acknowledge Morneau, and the fans at sold-out Target Field were not shy in making sure Morneau understood how much they appreciated his nearly 11 years in a Twins uniform.
The crowd did not hesitate, cheering Morneau even when he was eliminated in a swing-off against Todd Frazier after they both hit two home runs in the first round. Frazier homered on his final swing of the swing-off. Morneau went 0-for-3.
Morneau was also given an ovation during the pre-Derby announcement of his participation that rivaled the welcome the fans gave Twins second baseman Brian Dozier.
When Morneau came up to hit in the first round of the Derby, the crowd gave him a standing ovation, which he acknowledged with a big smile, and the fans gave him boisterous ovations for each of the two home runs he hit.
With the Twins, Morneau won the 2006 American League MVP Award, was a four-time All-Star and was a member of four AL Central championship teams. The last three seasons, however, were a struggle for Morneau, who battled through two concussions, and surgeries on his wrist, knee, lower back and neck.
Morneau has, however, rebounded this season, going into the All-Star break hitting .312 with 13 home runs and 60 RBIs.
"This was special, to be back in the park and to be able to say good-bye," said Morneau.
Being in the Home Run Derby was not new for Morneau. He participated in 2007 and '08, upstaging Josh Hamilton at Yankee Stadium to win the event in '08.
"It is fun," Morneau said. "Most guys dream when they are growing up about playing Home Run Derby in their backyard. Kids dream about hitting home runs. To be on that big stage in a Home Run Derby is something special."