Justin Morneau returns to Twins

TORONTO -- Justin Morneau was welcomed back by his Minnesota Twins teammates with a hard-hatted show of solidarity.

The three other members of Morneau's batting practice group -- Jason Kubel, Joe Mauer and Jim Thome -- all joined Morneau in wearing helmets instead of soft caps as they took their cuts before Friday's opener against the Toronto Blue Jays.

"If Morny does it, they all do it," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "They're a tight-knit group."

The 2006 AL MVP, Morneau has been wearing a helmet during batting practice throughout spring training after missing the end of the 2010 season, the All-Star Game and the playoffs after suffering a concussion in a game at Toronto last July 7.

The Canadian-born Morneau was injured in a collision with Blue Jays shortstop John McDonald while trying to break up a double play.

Initially expected to miss just a few days, Morneau acknowledged wondering if he'd ever return as his absence grew longer.

"You always try to not let that creep into your mind, but it always gets in there," he said. "You try and battle and you try and stay positive. The worst thing you can do is stress. That inhibits the recovery."

Doctors will monitor Morneau's progress throughout the season, and Gardenhire plans to give him days off from time to time.

"I had a nice conversation with him," Gardenhire said. "He's excited. The big thing for me was that he told me he's ready to go. He said he feels good and he's ready to do this. That was good enough for me."

Morneau said coming back after such a long time away is like "going into the unknown."

"It makes you a little bit nervous, but at the same time you have to go through it at some point whether it's now, it's May, it's July, whenever it is," he said.

Making his return in Toronto, the scene of his injury, just adds to the intrigue and the anxiety.

"It's a little funny the way it worked out, but it's exciting," he said. "Friends and family at home get to watch."

Most of all, Morneau is just happy to be talking about baseball again, not his health.

"Hopefully, this will be the night we put all this stuff behind us and don't have to answer the questions about it anymore and all the rest of it and just go out there and be able to relax and just play," he said.