This season, we celebrate a new era of Twins baseball with the arrival of Target Field. There have been many people credited with getting this incredible ballpark built. Names like Pohlad, Bell, St. Peter, and some guy name Mauer are always thrown out into that discussion (For those going: "Mauer?" Go to TF on a given day and you can find a sign that says "The house that Mauer built"). But there is someone who has been widely uncredited this year, and you can find him playing center...er, I mean right field for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Torii Hunter has flown under the radar in that before mentioned conversation and should be right along side those before mentioned names as well. Hunter meant so much to the Twins and its fans that it would be a mistake to not credit him. And there should be no reason not to give him credit.
Hunter was the Twins first round pick in the 1993 draft out of Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He came fresh out of high school and learned to play center field in the shadows of the greatest Twin ever, Kirby Puckett. Hunter made his debut late in the 1997 season and had a couple of up and down seasons before breaking through in 2001 and became a superstar. Early in his career, Hunter was not swinging for a good average, but his defense made him the household name he is now (He has won 10 straight gold gloves). His sprawling catches on the Metrodome's carpet or his leaping catches to take home runs away. Hunter dazzled us and won over the heart of just about every Twins fan. His bat eventually came around and he became a great all around player and by 2007, was the face of the franchise and the team leader.
In that same '07 season, the Twins broke ground on Target Field, with Hunter most notably absent from this event. He was uncertain about his future in the Twin Cities past '07 and deemed it best to not participate in the event. There was an already growing concern that his days here were numbered due to the Twins' financial constraints from playing in the Dome. And that turned out to be the case. The Twins lost Hunter to the Angels the following offseason when he signed a 5 year/$90 million contract.
In his final game as a Twin, Torii was oulled from his center field position in the ninth inning by manager Ron Gardenhire. Torii jogged into the dugout and recieved an ovation that lasted nearly five minutes. There was no dry eye in the Dome that day. Everyone there, (myself included) knew they just saw the last time Torii Hunter would wear a Minnesota Twins uniform, and they showed him their appreciation for all he had done for the franchise.
But perhaps his greatest feat while here in Minnesota was being a big part of the Twins resurgence that led to the construction of Target Field. And when he arrived here this weekend, he recieved a huge ovation during Friday night's game and the Twins went as far as playing his 2007 walkup music as he stepped into the batters box for the first time. Throughout the weekend Hunter's comments have indicated (at least to me) that he misses playing here. And I think it's safe to say that the fans miss him too. And when his time in Anaheim ends, I'm certain the Twins would be willing to bring him back to his rightful home. Because Torii Hunter in a uniform not lettered with Twins on the front just isn't right.