Monday, October 26, 2015

Spider-Man In The Flesh, Torii Hunter Says Goodbye

After 19 seasons, and a final farewell, Torii Hunter has decided to hang up his cleats. There was no tour as he completed his final 139 games, there was no final moment, and there wasn't even an at bat in the Twins final game. For Torii, things ended the same way they started, on his terms.

After being the 20th overall selection by the Minnesota Twins in the 1993 Major League Baseball draft, Hunter debuted in 1997 at the age of 21. Becoming a regular two years later, the 23 year-old would go on (unbeknownst to him) to be one of the most celebrated Twins in history. Thinking about the 408ft marker out in centerfield at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome was not possible without Torii's image emblazoned in front of it.

For his career, Torii was a man of moments. Despite being celebrated as a defensive superstar, it was the awe inspiring and jaw dropping catches that truly defined his prowess. While not the fastest in center, and without the strongest arm, Hunter relied on instinct and feel. Robbing home runs became his calling card, both at the Metrodome and on the road. While sabermetrics suggest that Hunter was average at best defensively for much of his career, moments such as his robbing Barry Bonds during the 2002 All Star game only took his defensive lore to new heights.

In fact, it was actually the bat that paced Hunter for many of his 19 seasons. Owning a career .277/.331/.461 slash line, Hunter compiled 2,452 hits, 353 homers, and 1,391 runs batted in. He produced his two highest averages of his career at the ages of 36 and 37, and eight times he batted .280 or higher.

Then, there was his durability. Over the course of his 19 seasons, Hunter showed up each and every day. He competed in at least 135 games in 14 of those seasons, and played in over 150 on four different occasions. In his final tour with the Twins in 2015, it was that ability to show up that drew Terry Ryan and Paul Molitor to bring the veteran back one last time.

With young talent such as Byron Buxton and Eddie Rosario needing mentorship, it was Hunter who was there to provide it. Throughout spring training and into the season, it was Hunter who dictated clubhouse life, and led the outfielders down the path of success. With his track record behind him, the young prospects on board were able to emulate what they one day would hope to become.

Now with the certainty that Torii Hunter's career has come to an end, the Twins can move on and move forward into a new era. Having bridged the gap between what was and what is to come, centerfield is now being turned over to a new crop of talent. For everything Torii was to Twins Territory, the likes of Aaron Hicks and Byron Buxton will never be able to replace him. What they can do however, is hope to follow his example and light their own path.

For everything, the good the bad, ups and downs, excitement and failures, thank you Torii Hunter.

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