2 months after concussion, Twins star Justin Morneau still optimistic he will return this year

in more ways than one.

Morneau said on Wednesday that he is still optimistic that he will eventually return from his concussion to help out in 2010, even though he still can't sit in the dugout to watch a full nine innings.

"To keep the symptoms down they say to limit the stress," Morneau said with a sheepish shrug.

Easier said than done for a player as competitive as Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP and one of the pillars of the Twins clubhouse. He went on the disabled list after taking a knee to the head while sliding into second base in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 7.

He took some batting practice in August and has sat in the dugout for some games at Target Field, but doctors have advised him to take it slowly in those stressful activities to expedite the recovery process.

"We're late in the game, it's more wanting to be out there," Morneau said. "We got a tie game or we're up by one and we've got runners on base, you're sitting there wanting to be out there. The adrenaline starts going and you starting thinking about what you would do in that situation. We're just trying to limit that stuff. That's part of it."

Morneau hasn't played since and is still feeling symptoms from the concussion. But he did say he is "having more good days than bad" this week.

"It comes and goes. The last couple days I've felt pretty good and been really encouraged," he said. "It's going to take a few days like that. It's not going to be just one or two where I can all of a sudden go out there and play. I have to feel like myself."

His return sure would be a boost to the Twins, who have surged to the top of the AL Central even without their slugger in the lineup. Michael Cuddyer has moved from right field to first base and filled in admirably and the Twins led the Chicago White Sox by 4½ games when the day started on Wednesday.

It's the second straight September that Morneau has been forced to watch from the bench. He missed the final three weeks of last season and the playoffs with a back injury.

"Being in here after the game and seeing everybody excited, it's tough for me to be around that," Morneau said. "As good as it is to see it, it's definitely hard to be around, not feeling like you're a part of it."

Morneau was hitting .345 with 18 homers and 56 RBIs when he went down the first week in July. Even though he hasn't played in two months, only Jim Thome (22) and Jason Kubel (19) have more homers than Morneau on the Twins.

"It's just a long process," he said. "It's frustrating watching it and not being a part of it. This is what we play for and you never know how many chances you're going to get to win.

"Being the first year in this stadium and not being able to be a part of it has been very difficult. The boys are playing well, that's made it easier. It's still my goal of making it back this year."

It hasn't been all bad news for Morneau. He was recently nominated as a finalist for the Roberto Clemente Award, given annually to a major league player who combines community service with excellence on the field.

"It's a real special honor," Morneau said. "What he did as a player and off the field helping so many people was something special and it's very humbling to be nominated and recognized."

Morneau grew up in the Vancouver area and idolized Canucks forward Trevor Linden, who was also very active in the community. He made it a priority to do the same thing when he made it to the big leagues.

"When you do anything off the field it's not for recognition or awards or anything like that, it's to try and make a difference in someone's life," Morneau said. "It's very special to be recognized and it's nice, but there's a whole lot of guys in here doing great things."