Players these days are too often remembered by the box score. The first thought that comes to mind when we think of someone is how many home runs they hit or how many awards they won. But remembering Torii Hunter for his 353 home runs, nine Gold Gloves, five All-Star appearances and two Silver Sluggers would be a crime because none of that even begins to tell the story of the player he was.
There’s one play that comes to mind when I think of Torii Hunter. The Minnesota Twins were losing 7-1 in the eighth inning on April 9th against the Detroit Tigers en route to an opening series sweep in which the Twins were outscored 22-1. Hunter – who was just beginning his 19th season in the Majors – dove for a ball out in right field and made the play.
It left me baffled. Why was this 39-year-old vet risking his body in a game that is all but over? A young Twins team that was expected to struggle though the 2015 season had just been embarrassed in every way possible by the mighty Tigers and yet Hunter was still treating every play like it was extra innings in game seven of the World Series. That one play should sum up his entire career.
As a 23-year old Twins fan, I got into baseball right around the time that Hunter was becoming a known commodity around the league and learning that he retired today was something that froze me. I can admit that I took him for granted during his first tenure with the Twins, which is why I was so careful to appreciate this past season.
When I was a nine-year-old fan in 2002, Hunter was the best player in the world to me. How could you not love him? He was not only the most productive player on a very good Twins team that made the ALCS that season, but he was also exciting. He legged out grounders, stole bases, blasted home runs and took many more homers away from opposing hitters. Where I’ve loved players like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau – two former MVP winners – in the post Hunter days, that excitement only a player like Hunter could bring was missing. He was just a different kind of star.
The Twins are in good hands right now and their outfield features a number of young and talented players that will keep the team competitive for years to come, but if a Twins fans tell you he or she doesn’t miss having Torii around then you were just lied to. I hope he stays close to the team and at the very least close to the sport.
A link to my childhood became only a memory today and I wish Mr. Torii Hunter all the best.