Over the years we have often criticized local teams for the lack of diversity in their administration. Finally, it seems at least a couple of them have gotten our message.
The Minnesota Twins and the Minnesota Timberwolves have both created front office positions now filled by former team players. Torii Hunter began last November as a special assistant in the Twins’ baseball operations, and John Thomas last week began his new job as Timberwolves and Lynx vice president of community engagement.
Both men talked to the MSR in separate interviews about their new positions.
“They come and get advice from us,” explained Hunter, who joined former teammates LaTroy Hawkins and Michael Cuddyer as special assistants. The 19-year veteran outfielder, who retired after the 2015 season, has regularly met with the team’s decision-making staff. He’s made the rounds in the organization’s minor league farm clubs “talking to coaches and players, giving our feedback and our experience in the game to try and help out these guys,” Hunter reported.
“I appreciate Thad [Levine, senior VP and GM] and [Executive VP Derek] Falvey. They have been spoon-feeding us a little bit of everything.”
Thomas, the Minneapolis native, Roosevelt High School and University of Minnesota graduate, rejoined the club he played with (2004-05) during his NBA career, which began as the 25th pick in the 1997 NBA Draft by New York soon traded to Boston before his rookie season began. He also played with Toronto, Memphis, Atlanta and New Jersey as well as overseas before he retired in 2011. Thomas has worked the past four years as the national training manager for LifeTime Fitness.
“My affinity with the team never left,” admitted Thomas, who also once worked with the National Basketball Retired Players Association in helping former NBA, WNBA, ABA and Harlem Globetrotters players transition into post-playing life. He began his newly created position May 30.
“The emphasis on community” was the clincher for him, he pointed out. “I’m humbled and honored. I want to do the best that I can to share the different types of impacts I’ve had from the game of basketball. Basketball or sport in general is just a way for us to be successful.”
He had envisioned one day working in basketball after finally hanging up his sneakers, noted Thomas. “I wasn’t exactly sure what that role would look like. I envisioned myself in some capacity of working with players. I think this is a great entry point for me.”
Hunter this season also is in the broadcasting booth — he and Hawkins are the first Blacks on Twins baseball on a regular basis since Al Newman in 1994. They joined Tony Oliva, who has been an analyst on the team’s Spanish radio broadcasts since 2010.
“It’s totally different,” Hunter told me after a recent weekend stint. “It’s a different way of seeing the game. I’m not too long removed from the game. I’ve got to reserve myself and tell myself I’m in the booth now. You got to talk about a little of everything…and talk about it because somebody [watching] might not know it.
“I see the game in a different lens,” stated Hunter.
Thomas’ role as a new team VP is overseeing the Timberwolves and Lynx community relations efforts, managing the organization’s basketball academy, and developing an NBA/WNBA alumni program. “I’m a hard worker, and I played that way. I work that way. I want to do the best for this organization in the community,” he said.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.