ORT MYERS, Fla. — If you would’ve have asked 21-year-old Justin Morneau whether he thought a post-playing broadcast career would have been in his future, the young prospect would have thought that idea was crazy. Shy by nature, the idea of his voice being piped into the households of thousands of baseball fans had never crossed his mind.
Longtime Twins broadcaster Dick Bremer never could have imagined Morneau would be his partner in the booth at this point either, though for a different reason: Bremer figured Morneau, now 39, would be at the tail end of a decorated playing career.
But Morneau’s playing career was derailed by a concussion and its lingering symptoms. He also required a late-career elbow surgery and his last game came at age 35. It was those same injuries, though, that potentially helped lead him down an unexpected path.
Now entering his fourth season in the broadcast booth, Morneau was recently named FOX Sports North’s lead analyst. He expects to be on the call for at least 65 games alongside Bremer. It’s a role that Morneau has excelled in, engaging fans with his vast baseball knowledge and impressing those around him with his preparation.
And it may have never happened if he had never gotten hurt.
A new career
Krista Morneau had grown tired of watching her husband talk to the television. He’d come home from work and it’d be early enough to flip on a West Coast game. Then he’d sit, watch a game and talk at the television to no one in particular.
This was a pattern that played out especially during the last four years of his career, when he was often injured, spending hours upon hours in front of the television watching baseball.
“My wife would have to listen to me break down whatever was happening and arguing with the commentators or having a conversation with someone on TV so I think she just got tired of listening to me and told me she might find someone else that actually wanted to hear what I had to say,” Justin Morneau said.
He knows it sounds crazy, the idea of him sitting in front of a television, going back and forth with the TV, but he can’t help it — it runs in the family, after all. George Morneau, Justin’s father, does the exact same thing, he said, so when Krista planted the idea of broadcasting, it made sense to Justin.
“I think it was a learned behavior of just breaking things down as you see them and trying to explain why a player was thinking a certain thing or why a pitcher threw a certain pitch in a situation and all those kinds of things,” Morneau said. “I do that when I watch games naturally. I never thought of it becoming a career, but it has become, I guess, useful for what I do.”
And so, when his playing career was done, he tried it out.
Learning the job
Morneau’s first game in the booth came in 2018, months after he announced his retirement.
Shortly after he began, he met with FOX Sports North producers. Just as he might with an at-bat when he was a player, he went in and watched video of himself. He watched himself doing the opening in front of the camera, and producers told him what he did well and what they’d like to see more of.
Among the challenges: Making sure he was talking loud enough because his partner, Bremer, has a deep, powerful voice.
He sought advice plenty of advice from Bremer, who is entering his 38th year in the booth and has plenty of experience working with new broadcasters. Among the advice he gave? Talk more. Viewers were interested in what Morneau had to say and wanted to hear more of it.
“As I’ve told all of them that I’ve worked with over the years, the more they talk, the better I’m going to sound, and Justin, I think, grasped that right away,” Bremer said.
Another thing Bremer shared that stuck with Morneau was the idea that “it’s called broadcasting, not narrowcasting,” and had to understand who the audience was — young viewers, middle-aged viewers and older viewers — and find a way to connect with each of them to make it enjoyable and informative for all.
“You’re trying to keep kids involved, you’re trying to help them develop a love for the game and an understanding for the game and then you’re trying to also not make it too simple that somebody who has watched baseball their whole life, you can kind of give them something new or a different way of thinking about things so I think him giving me that analogy really helped,” Morneau said.
When he broadcasts, he has a specific audience in mind: A 16-year-old version of himself, sitting in his living room, absolutely enthralled and in love with the game of baseball.
What can he teach? What can he show? How can he continue to foster that love of the game? Buck Martinez in Toronto was that guy for him — Morneau grew up near Vancouver watching the Blue Jays — and now he’s becoming that guy for Twins fans.
It was the bottom of the fourth inning in Pittsburgh last summer, nearly 900 miles away from the booth Bremer and Morneau were sitting in at Target Field. As Kenta Maeda prepared to deliver a pitch to Colin Moran, Bremer had a burning question on his mind.
Morneau had briefly played and lived in Pittsburgh, so maybe he’d know the answer, Bremer surmised.
“Hopefully this isn’t geography,” Morneau quipped, before Bremer launched in a question about just that.
Why was it, Bremer wanted to know, that when the Allegheny River and Monongahela River run together in Pittsburgh, they form a third river, the Ohio River? In Prescott, Wis., Bremer points out, the Mississippi River and St. Croix River run into each other and then continue on as the Mississippi, rather than as a new river.
Because he lived in Pittsburgh for a month, he should have an answer? Morneau wondered. He didn’t.
“Well we should probably look it up because the internet has been known to be a trusted source of truthful information,” he quipped.
Looking back, Bremer said, the whole exchange is an example of Morneau’s growth as a broadcaster. If that had happened near the beginning of Morneau’s broadcast career, Bremer said he likely wouldn’t have felt comfortable going on that type of tangent, drifting away from the game like that.
But as the two have grown more comfortable together, they’re able to take their broadcasts in different directions.
“He provided the perfect punchline at the end,” Bremer said. “…He’s got a funny personality and that’s not something I don’t believe fans were aware of when he was playing but it’s been revealed as he’s been able to do more and more games on television.”
The decision to name Morneau lead analyst was a joint one between the Twins and FOX Sports North. Along with Morneau, Roy Smalley and LaTroy Hawkins will also broadcast games this season with Bremer.
“It really is a credit to Justin and his ability to learn the trade because not everybody can do it. Just because you played baseball doesn’t mean that you’ll make a good analyst,” FOX Sports North senior vice president and general manager Mike Dimond said. “He made the transition, I don’t want to say easily but he put the time, work and effort into it to really to study how to be a good broadcaster, how to tell the proper stories and how to get that perspective out to the fans at home.”
As he would for a game, Morneau spends ample time studying opposing teams, going through their pitchers and what they throw and then taking a look at their hitters. He allocates time in the morning to do that so that when he shows up for work, he can feel confident based on his preparation. When he has a question, he’s not hesitant to reach out to someone who would know the answer.
Along with his role as a broadcaster, Morneau is a special assistant to baseball operations, helping out the front office. In a typical year, he would also spend some time down in Fort Myers during the spring working with players. That provides him valuable insight that he can bring to the broadcast booth, too.
“He’s close enough where I think he can bring not only a foundation of baseball knowledge but also a level of insight in terms of perhaps why the Twins are doing certain things or why the lineup may look the way it is or what a particular player may be working on at any particular moment and I think that’s really made him the broadcaster that he’s turned into,” team president and CEO Dave St. Peter said.
The feedback the Twins have received about Morneau in the booth has been “overwhelmingly positive,” St. Peter said. And over time, they think there will be an appetite for Morneau to do even more games.
For now, 65 is a good number for him. At just over 10 per month, it still leaves him enough time at home where he can be active and involved with his kids, their sports and everything that goes along with that, while still giving him plenty of time around the stadium.
“I always get excited when I’m driving into the field and know that I’m going to be working the game and being around the ballpark,” Morneau said. “Hopefully adding in more games, I’m going to still feel the same in September as I do in April driving to the field.”