Torii Hunter transitions to off-the-field play

 

SOECharlesHallmansquareIt took him two years to finally put away his Gold Glove, but nonetheless Torii Hunter says he’s only “transitioning” and not retiring from baseball.

“Baseball is in my blood,” Hunter quickly pointed out during the November 5 retirement press conference at the Twins’ stadium. However, he admitted that the last couple of seasons it has been hard for him to get going once he woke up, and even harder and longer to warm up his body to play the game he loves. After 19 seasons, his body finally convinced him it was time to move on.

Torii Hunter
Torii Hunter

“When you are younger, you think you can play baseball forever,” said the 40-year-old, who played in 2,372 games with Minnesota, Los Angeles Angels and Detroit. “It’s a kid’s game, and as grown-ups we are kids at heart.”

As a youngster — he was around nine or 10 at the time — Hunter watched Chicago Cubs baseball games with his late grandfather on television. It was then he got hooked on the sport.  Hunter later got drafted and signed by Minnesota at age 17. He finished among the team’s all-time top 10 in games, home runs, RBI, extra base hits, runs and total bases.

Even more so, Hunter watched and learned from his granddad about “iron sharpening iron,” a reference to Proverbs 27:17 — learning how SOE 1.16to influence those younger than himself to do things right. That’s what Hunter did as a veteran ballplayer — he learned and watched what the late Kirby Puckett, who he later succeeded as Twins centerfielder, did for him and other young players.

He didn’t play in a World Series or for a pennant winner, although Hunter did play in the 2002 American League Championship Series. “It may not have been in God’s plan,” noted Hunter. “I had eight chances [to play in the playoffs] and I’m thankful.”

Instead, he was destined “to minister to these guys,” ,” said Minnesota GM Terry Ryan of Hunter referring to the 2015 Twins, who competed for a wild card spot until the season’s final days. “We got to give him a lot of credit [because] he showed the way. He was a leader in the clubhouse and on the field, and off the field [as well].”

Hunter returned to the organization that drafted and signed him last December after what he jokingly called “a seven-year hiatus,” referring to his leaving the Twins and signing as a free agent with the Angels in 2008. He played five seasons there and then with the Tigers for two seasons (2013-14).

Asked how Hunter managed not to blow up any bridges when he left the Twins after not agreeing on a new contract, Ryan told the MSR, “That was just an area where we had [a] disagreement of dollars. Thankfully we got [him] the last year [of his career], and he came over here and made a huge impact on a lot of people.”

“Terry stuck with me,” said the retired player of the man who originally signed him.

Hunter told the MSR afterwards that he intends to advocate for more Blacks to play baseball at all levels. “I will never forget how hard it was to play this game,” he said. “That’s something I will take into account as I make the transition to whether it’s being on TV talking about the game or being in the front office working with Terry Ryan.”

In other words, Hunter pledges to keep “sharpening iron.”

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.