When Torii Hunter broke into the major leagues with the Twins in the late 1990s, he was a raw prospect. Tom Kelly was his first manager, and he saw the start of a progression from overmatched youngster to All-Star. Kelly was on hand Thursday for Hunter’s retirement news conference, and he chatted with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand:
Q You go back with Torii about as far as anyone. What did you see initially in the raw materials he had?
A Raw materials is the correct way to put it. They give you a player who has all those tools and talents, and it’s your job as a manager to bring that out. It’s a challenge, and a welcome challenge. Very rarely do you find a player who has all the attributes. When you have the five [tools], that’s someone special. He exhibited parts of those in his early days. The hitting was probably the last to develop. Everybody is different. But once Torii got the hitting down, he was pretty much the whole package. And even when he wasn’t hitting, he could save you two, three, four runs a night with the way he could play in the field and go get the ball.
Q Is it satisfying when it comes to fruition with a player like that, who you’ve had to work with?
A That’s our job. That’s what we do, and when that happens I’m not going to say it’s a sigh of relief or anything, but it’s so rewarding. That’s what coaching and managing is about — watching the players develop. In turn, we’ve seen players who don’t have the work ethic or desire to be the best they can be. One big advantage Torii had over others is he had that will and desire to be the best he could possibly be. And that made the job easier for everybody. It was fun to work with Torii. Some anxious moments at times. … But even when things weren’t going well, you just keep writing his name down. That’s what I did. I kept writing his name down, putting him in and giving him a chance to come forward and step up to become the person and player he became. I couldn’t be happier for him.
Q How did his personality develop when he was younger?
A He mentioned how he watched [Kirby] Puckett work the room and handle himself in the room. He mentioned watching Andre Dawson, and the Hawk is just a class individual. Of course, Puck could handle the room. He learned a lot watching Puckett. It takes a while to get the hang of it because he even said young players think they know it all. They’re hard-headed at times. But your job as manager is to stay with it and keep pushing him on it.
Q You saw plenty of players come and go as manager. How do the Twins go about replacing someone of his influence in the clubhouse?
A You can’t. You don’t. You can’t replace those kinds of people. But hopefully, like Paul [Molitor] said, they pass on enough information and knowledge that they can proceed now on their own and take that next step. Hopefully there are people in the clubhouse who can do that.
Q Looking at the Twins roster, what other pieces do they need to compete?
A I think we need to work on our pitching. I think we need to be better on the starting staff. … Bottom line, in my opinion, we need to pitch a little better.