Torii Hunter said he wasn't going to crack.
That strategy backfired minutes into his retirement news conference Thursday as Twins General Manager Terry Ryan began to read off a list of Hunter's accomplishments and heap praise on him.
"If you want a stand-up guy, you are looking at him right here," Ryan said. "Hustle, heart, accountable, media-friendly. A leader on the field and in the clubhouse."
Hunter, seated between Ryan and manager Paul Molitor, began to choke up.
"This is tough for me," Hunter said as he composed himself. "I've never been in this situation. When you're young, you think you can play baseball forever."
For the next 40 minutes, the news conference was an extension of Hunter on game days. He was candid throughout — and had the audience grabbing their sides with laughter at times.
Hunter decided over a week ago to end his 19-year career that included nine Gold Glove awards and five All-Star selections. He played in at least 140 games 11 times, drove in at least 90 runs eight times and had five seasons of at least 25 homers. But Thursday was the first time he publicly talked about the end of his career.
He thanked his wife, Katrina, for her support, then added, "Maybe we can go to that beach we talked about and lay out naked."
He thanked Mike Ruth, the scout who signed him out of Pine Bluff, Ark., for "coming to the ghetto and not being scared to pick me up."
He talked about what Kirby Puckett and Harmon Killebrew meant to him as mentors. He said the 2002 season was his favorite year because the Twins had a tight-knit group that played with a chip on its shoulder after hearing contraction talk during the offseason.
Hunter reached the postseason eight times but never won a World Series. The Royals, the team he turned down to sign with the Twins last offseason, won it this year.
"Me going out without a championship, it's tough," he said. "But I think, in the end, I've had some success and I've been a champion by just learning so much in this game."
Hunter talked about how he didn't see eye-to-eye with Tom Kelly at times, but he finds himself repeating Kelly's lessons to younger players.
Kelly was in the audience Thursday, along with former teammates Corey Koskie, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. In 2005, Hunter took a swing at Morneau in the clubhouse when Hunter thought he wasn't being a good teammate. But the two patched things up the next spring training and remain friends today.
"He would run through a wall for you or do anything for you," Morneau said. "When you have guys like him setting things up, it's easy to follow."
Hunter is going to take some time off to spend with his family, but there have been preliminary discussions with Ryan about him having a role with the team in the future.
Hunter also has looked into a possible career as a television analyst.
Ryan said the club could bring in another veteran to replace Hunter, but it has to be the right fit. But the Twins know filling Hunter's spikes in the outfield will be much easier than in the clubhouse.
Moments after the news conference ended and Hunter's private interview sessions were winding down, Kelly walked toward Hunter with the side of his right hand pressed against the bill of his cap.
"Torii," Kelly said. "I salute you."