07/01/07 7:20 PM ET
Twins trio headed to All-Star Game
Morneau, Hunter and Santana join American League squad
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
"It's exciting for all of our guys," Gardenhire said. "I talked with all of them. For Morneau, this will be his first time and I think he'll really enjoy it. He just has to take it all in. The big thing is to open your eyes and enjoy it, enjoy the heck out of the experience."There has been quite a bit of pressure this season on Morneau, the reigning AL Most Valuable Player, to reproduce his results from last year. Morneau helped lead the Twins to the playoffs, hitting .321 with 130 RBIs and 34 home runs. His home run total also made him the team's first hitter to belt 30-plus homers in a season since 1987. But Morneau has gotten off to an even stronger start this season. Even after missing five games due to a bruised lung he suffered in Miami last week, Morneau still ranks second in the AL in home runs, with 20, and seventh in RBIs, with 61. He is hitting .280 on the year. Duplicating success is never easy, and Morneau admitted he didn't respond well to the challenge at the start of the year. "The first couple weeks, I put a lot of pressure on myself, and [I was] trying to do that stuff all over again instead of going out and having fun and doing the little things to help my team win," Morneau said. "If you worry about the team winning, all that other stuff takes care of itself. It's been fun. When you put all that personal stuff aside, [that's] when you start doing better." The 26-year-old first baseman earned his selection via the players' ballot. For Morneau, getting that first invitation to the prestigious event is an honor, but the fact that it came from his fellow players means even more. "The one thing you want is the respect of your teammates in the clubhouse," Morneau said. "And when you're recognized by players on other teams, it's a good feeling."
As impressive as Morneau has been, Hunter has been equally crucial to his team's offensive success. The center fielder, traditionally known for his stellar defense, is hitting .303 with 21 doubles and a .554 slugging percentage. Hunter ranks fourth in the AL in home runs (17) and RBIs (63).This will be Hunter's second All-Star appearance, earning his spot as a players' selection. Hunter's only previous stint at the Midsummer Classic came in 2002, and it was certainly memorable. At that All-Star Game in Milwaukee, Hunter robbed Barry Bonds of a home run in a spectacular over-the-wall catch. Hunter likely won't get the same sort of applause this time with such a catch, as it would come in Bonds' home park. But Hunter said his approach won't change. "If he hits it over there in the same spot and I have a chance to go get it, I will," Hunter said with a laugh. "I'm sorry." The Twins' two big boppers will be joined in San Francisco by the ace of their pitching staff. Santana earned his third straight selection to the All-Star Game, this time being chosen as a manager's pick by Leyland. Despite having what many have considered a "down" year for Santana, the left-hander is 9-6 with a 2.76 ERA in 17 starts. His 120 strikeouts rank second in Majors, and he's third in the AL in ERA. Santana also recorded his first complete-game shutout in nearly two seasons on June 19 at Shea Stadium against the Mets. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2004, Santana has been one of the most dominant starters in all of baseball. He is 64-25 over that span with a 2.75 ERA and 868 strikeouts. And while it's three straight years of earning a bid to the Midsummer Classic, Santana said the excitement never really fades. "You have to enjoy it," Santana said. "It's just a great experience, to be around the best in the league. It's very special and you have to enjoy it as much as you can, because you never know just how many times you'll get to be there."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.