Torii Hunter stands tall, stresses unity at Hall of Fame speech

20160716_162911
(Charles Hallman/MSR News)

Baseball, unlike football and basketball, doesn’t have a fast track to the majors. Torii Hunter was fresh out of high school when the Minnesota Twins drafted him in 1993. After about three years in the minor league, he remembered hitting the frustration wall.

He wanted to give up baseball and perhaps head to college and play football, another sport he excelled in during his youth. “I had my brothers, my wife and my friends tell me not to do that, to stick with it and grind it out,” recalled the Arkansas native.

As a result, over two decades later, Hunter stood near the pitcher’s mound Saturday evening as he was inducted in the Twins Hall of Fame. He played 12 of his 19 major league seasons with the parent club (1997-2007; 2015).

Hunter, a five-time All-Star,  played on four Minnesota division winners. His distinguished career includes a highlight for the ages: a leaping catch to rob Barry Bonds of a home run in the first inning of the 2002 All-Star Game in his first start.

Hunter played all but one of his Twins season in the North Minneapolis area ballpark — instead his home field outfield heroics were on the rock-hard Metrodome turf. But he was a leader on and off the field, a skill he brought back with him when he played his final pro season last summer, before retiring after the 2015 season.

When asked about retirement to date, Hunter told the MSR, “It’s tough and I’m making adjustments. I’m having a little more fun,” he said.

“I watch the Twins, but I try not to watch too much because it makes me sad,” noted Hunter. One advantage to retirement he said he was enjoying was being able to spend more time with his family. “It was my first Fourth of July since 1991 to be around my family,” said the retired outfielder. “We had a lot of family around. I was able to party for four days and hang out with them and not think about the game of baseball.”

It’s sometimes said that Black people don’t retire, they just move on to something else, if able. “I still love baseball and it is still in me,” said Hunter to reporters, including the MSR. “I retired from the game of baseball but I’m still a man. Being a man, you don’t retire. My Creator says I have to work all the days of my life, so I am going to do it until I can’t.

“I have to work — I still have 40 more years to live,” he said. Hunter now runs his own financial management firm but admits he’s still in the start-up phase. “I’m the CEO but I’m still learning the game. Like baseball, you have to have people around you who are wise and have been there.”

This new world is totally unlike baseball, and it is the camaraderie with teammates he said he’ll miss the most. “It’s tough to inspire people in the real world,” observed Hunter. “It’s pretty cool to be in that clubhouse. We had real talk sessions on marriage, financial, life [and] the game of course. You can’t find that anywhere in the world.”

Before the pre-game ceremony, standing near his likeness which is now permanently affixed on a legends’ fence he told the MSR, “The unveiling of our pictures [he and longtime radio announcer John Gordon, who also was inducted Saturday] on this great fence is just the appetizer. Once I get on that podium, I hope I don’t pass out.”

We’re happy to report that Hunter, as he did for nearly 20 seasons in the outfield, stood tall as he delivered his brief acceptance remarks, which stressed unity and love, a very timely message in the wake of recent tragedies and unrest in Minnesota and across the nation.

“This is the United States of America,” Hunter said as he closed his speech. “The word united means togetherness. United we stand, divided we fall…

“We must love the one next to us no matter the color of someone’s skin, gender, views or religious preferences. Love others as you want them to love you. I love all of you, and I thank you for all your support over the years.”

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses tochallman@spokesman-recorder.com.