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Tough decision awaits Sox’ Morneau

Justin Morneau runs to first base on a single during the third inning last week against the Minnesota Twins. (Photo by Marilyn Indahl/Getty Images)

As Justin Morneau considered a comeback this summer, his 5-year-old daughter, Evelyn, served as the chief lobbyist in the pro-baseball campaign.

“She loves coming out here,” Morneau said with a smile Friday in the White Sox locker room. “She was very excited. But when I went to go on the road trip, she said, ‘Dad, you can’t leave.’

“I said, ‘You can’t have it both ways. If I’m going to play, I’ve got to go.’”

So he did.

Two months later, another difficult career decision awaits Morneau. The 35-year-old designated hitter will be a free agent at season’s end, and he must determine whether to return for a 15th season in the big leagues.

Morneau knows he needs to make up his mind. He just doesn’t know what his answer will be.

“I haven’t gotten that far yet,” Morneau said. “I don’t know if that will be an offseason decision or a last week of the season (decision). I know we’re running out of time.

“Right now, I feel like I’ll put too much into every day if I’m sitting there trying to figure out every day what I want to do. There still is a desire to win, and there still is the joy I get from winning, from shaking hands at the end of the game and coming in and everybody being in a good mood. You have a lot more fun when you’re winning.”

The Sox were in first place this spring when Morneau first considered signing with the team. He signed a one-year, $1 million deal June 9 and made his season debut about five weeks later after recovering from offseason surgery on his left elbow.

Despite Morneau’s steady production, the Sox have faded into fourth place. He entered Friday hitting .265 with five home runs and 20 RBIs in 44 games.

Sox manager Robin Ventura said Morneau’s value extended beyond statistics.

“You’re looking at a veteran guy that’s a true pro in everything he does,” Ventura said. “You can look at him and do it a lot of different ways, but the biggest thing is our young guys are getting valuable information by playing with this guy of how to play. You can’t ever tell if he hits a ground ball to first base or if it’s a double in the gap, that’s how hard he runs.

“He’s always prepared. He’s always here early getting ready. What he goes through to get ready for a game, for how long he’s played and still to have the passion to be able to come in here and put in the time and do it right, that’s important.”

Passion and preparation never have been a problem for Morneau. He was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 2006 with the Minnesota Twins, and he hit .319 with the Colorado Rockies in 2014 to win the National League batting title. Along the way have been four All-Star selections and two Silver Slugger awards.

Yet Morneau does not call attention to his accomplishments in the Sox clubhouse. He prefers to work quietly as he offers hitting tips to younger players.

“He’s a behind-the-scenes type guy,” outfielder Adam Eaton said. “I think it’s the Canadian in him, being a humble guy and having an understanding of what his role is. Is he proud? Yeah, most likely. But he doesn’t push that on anybody.”

Morneau is four home runs shy of 250 for his career. He is 20 RBI shy of 1,000. However, if he decides to return next season, it won’t be because of individual milestones.

He wants to win.

“Getting in the clubhouse after you clinch that playoff spot, spraying champagne, grown men acting like kids jumping around, that’s the best feeling in the game of baseball,” Morneau said. “Guys that play a long time, that’s what they chase.”