Klee: At first base for the Rockies ... Justin Morneau

By: Paul Klee
April 4, 2014 Updated: April 4, 2014 at 9:19 pm
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Colorado Rockies first baeman Justin Morneau fields throw to put out Arizona Diamondbacks batter in the fifth inning of a baseball game in Denver on Friday, April 4, 2014. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

DENVER - The location of the first baseman's locker is the same. It's there, over in the right corner, near the YouTube-playing computer where Nolan Arenado assumes DJ duties. It's next to Michael Cuddyer's locker and takes up two cubbies.

The first baseman's locker has less camouflage now. Todd Helton's private space gave the impression of a man as ready for the duck blind as the on-deck circle.

The new first baseman - still sounds weird, doesn't it? - is more apt to check NHL scores. Justin Morneau grew up in British Columbia, a childhood fan of Patrick Roy and Andy Moog. "I was a goalie," he said. And as Morneau hustled into position in the first inning of the Rockies' home opener, he received a positive first impression.

"I heard a couple people say, 'Welcome to Colorado,'" Morneau said at his new locker after the Rockies thumped the Diamondbacks 12-2 Friday.

Those are not words directed at Colorado's starting first baseman since, well, John Elway was the quarterback here, not an executive here. After 16 years with Helton in that role, this qualifies as radical change.

So far, change is good. Helton's chilling out with a sweet gig; his main concern Friday was scheduling a tee time.

"I will be at home (for the opener)," Helton said Thursday on Denver's 102.3 FM. "I might watch it on TV. I may not. I may go golfing.

"That's the beauty of being retired, you can do whatever you want."

So far, the transition has worked well for the Rockies, too. Morneau, a keeps-to-himself 32-year-old, has six hits through four games. His sure hand adds to an infield defense on the short list for the best in baseball. The first baseman owns a Gold Glove, as do the shortstop and third baseman. Ground balls might as well enter a black hole.

"Watching CarGo, Tulo, Cuddy; looking around at the guys in our lineup, it's just fun to be around good players, guys that like to hit," he said. "I've enjoyed that part so far."

After 11 seasons in Minnesota and 25 games in Pittsburgh, Morneau already digs the thin air.

"It was fun taking BP," he said with a grin.

This Rockies season won't go as smoothly as the Coors Field opener, where a paid sellout of 49,130 reveled in 17 hits and $7.25 draft beers. Nor will this season be decided by the new guy at first; Friday merely served as an introduction.

Here's yours, to Morneau:

He requested walk-up music by AC/DC.

His vast superstitions have included his uniform number (33, as worn by fellow Canadian Larry Walker) and pregame snack (a Slurpee).

He's gluten-free.

Hey, so is Coors Field. See, we're like old buds.

"This was the first ballpark to introduce gluten-free food," club owner Dick Monfort said.

Morneau wasn't the star in the home opener. That honor goes to bearded Charlie Blackmon, a swell soul who banged six hits, a first for the Rockies since Andres Gallaraga in 1995. "Unbelievable day for the Chuck," manager Walt Weiss said.

Or it goes to Carlos Gonzalez, whose home run blast drilled the third deck, measured 457 feet and deserved a flight plan from the FAA. Or it was the crowd, the eighth-largest in Coors Field history, a frat party for all ages.

"The more people that are in the stands, the less you can actually hear," Morneau said. "The last three games in Miami, you could hear everything."

But he heard his reception from the fans seated along the first-base line: Welcome to Colorado.

"That first week or two weeks doesn't make a season," Morneau said. "You're here for the long haul."

Yep, sounds like a Rockies first baseman.


Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

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