Giving up the travel, the workouts, the training, that part was easy for Torii Hunter. But giving up his teammates? That brought him to tears.
Hunter said goodbye to baseball, but only the active playing part, on Thursday at a Target Field press conference that was attended by former teammates Joe Mauer, Corey Koskie, Justin Morneau and Paul Molitor, now the Twins manager — a turnout that surprised Hunter and produced the most emotional moments of an otherwise celebratory event.
“I suspect every one [of his teammates] would tell you Torii made them better,” general manager Terry Ryan said.
Once his emotion subsided, Hunter thanked those teammates, his managers and players who taught him lessons, he said, that he’s tried to impart to younger players. “Us grownups are kids at heart,” Hunter said of the difficulty of walking away at the age of 40.
To Molitor, his teammate for two seasons at the start of his career, and his manager for the final year, he said simply: “It was an honor.”
Hunter said he had contemplated retirement for two seasons, and while nothing specific convinced him that 2015 should be his final season — especially after producing 22 home runs and 81 RBI as a 40-year-old — he realized soon after the season ended that the timing seemed right.
“The last two years, I’ve been sore,” he joked. “It just felt like it was time. … Did I say I was retired? I said I was ‘real tired.’ “
But age creeps up on a ballplayer, he admitted. “I never thought I’d get to this point this soon,” said the 17-year veteran.
Hunter closes his career with a .277 lifetime average, 353 home runs and 1,391 RBI, nine gold gloves and five All-Star appearances. He’s among the top 10 in most Twins career offensive categories, and played in the postseason eight times.
He never won a World Championship, however, nor made it to the World Series. “”Every play would like to have that experience,” Molitor said. “But Torii was a champion in so many other ways.”
Hunter said he doesn’t know yet what retirement will bring; he’s been contacted about broadcasting, and Ryan said the team had discussed in an abstract way some role for the veteran in the organization.
Mostly, Hunter said he wants to spend time with his wife Katrina, about whom he said, “Without you, I wouldn’t have had any success.”