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Justin Morneau’s advice to Anthony Rizzo: Be yourself

JustMorneau stretching nab Reed Johnsfirst dealt with same pressure thawaits Cubs prospect Anthony Rizzo. | Adam Bettcher~Getty Images

Justin Morneau, stretching to nab Reed Johnson at first, dealt with the same pressure that awaits Cubs prospect Anthony Rizzo. | Adam Bettcher~Getty Images

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Updated: July 11, 2012 10:35AM



MINNEAPOLIS — Before there was Anthony Rizzo, there was Justin Morneau.

The Minnesota Twins slugger was the Goliath first baseman whose footsteps were heard in the Twin Cities from the time he started tearing through Class AA and AAA in 2003.

He seemed to establish himself in the second half of 2004, after a four-team trade that sent Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs and moved first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz off the Twins’ roster. The following spring, Morneau and Joe Mauer were being compared to the Roger Maris-Mickey Mantle ‘‘M&M Boys’’ of their grandfathers’ generation.

‘‘We weren’t comparing ourselves to that,’’ Morneau said. ‘‘I think everyone else was kind of expecting that.’’

It’s a tale worth noting on the North Side as the breathless anticipation of Rizzo nears reality in the next few weeks.

It’s also the only thing worth anticipating for the Cubs, who lost for the 20th time in 24 games when they were blown out by the Twins 11-3 on Saturday.

Morneau, 31, doesn’t know much about the Cubs’ 22-year-old prized prospect, but he hears the footsteps coming, too. He knows who Rizzo is, and he’s well aware of the Boston-to-San-Diego-to-Chicago track Rizzo has taken.

He also can empathize with all the scrutiny and outside pressure that comes with being the Next Big Thing for a franchise.

Morneau admits to letting some of those ‘‘M&M’’ expectations filter in as he struggled in 2005 while the Twins missed the playoffs for the first time in four years.

‘‘There’s a learning curve in this game,’’ Morneau said, ‘‘and there’s times when you go 0-for-20 and times when you go 10-for-20, and you can’t get caught up too much in all the rest of that stuff.

‘‘I tried to do more than my part, and sometimes that can be the worst thing that can happen.’’

Rizzo already has struggled in the big leagues — he hit .141 with one home run in 49 games for the Padres last year — and the Cubs’ front office is sensitive to making sure he’s especially ready to succeed the next time he’s promoted.

It also isn’t about to promote him before the last week of this month and risk speeding up his free-agency clock.

Manager Dale Sveum, who last month suggested Rizzo could be used on the roster during interleague road games this weekend and in the June 18-20 series against the White Sox, made it clear Friday that Rizzo won’t be at U.S. Cellular Field.

Just as clear, though, is that Rizzo’s arrival could come shortly after that series, depending on how he’s faring at Class AAA Iowa.

Clearer still: His arrival and what follows promise to be the biggest story lines left in this long lost season.

Maybe he’ll be the MVP player Morneau became by 2006. Maybe he’ll struggle for a season for a team that also struggles, like Morneau did before breaking out.

Until then, ‘‘Don’t worry about the things you can’t control,’’ Morneau advises.

‘‘A lot of times it seems every guy you see come up through the minor leagues, he’s the next this or he’s the next that instead of just saying he’s the next Anthony Rizzo.

‘‘No two players are the same. No two players will ever have the same career numbers or the same whatever you want to say. Some guys run better than others. Some guys are better defensively. Some guys have more power.

‘‘And when you look at that and say this guy’s the next so-and-so, and you’re compared to guys that usually have 200 or 300 homers as opposed to two or three, you start trying to be that person instead of just trying to be yourself.’’

What does Morneau think of Rizzo? Who does he compare him to?

‘‘I know he’s supposed to be a good hitter,’’ Morneau said.

And best of luck with the rest of it.



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