In Torii Hunter’s nine full seasons with the Twins, from 1999 through 2007, he hit .271 and averaged 22 home runs, 79 RBI and 75 runs per season. When Hunter left for the Angels in 2008 few people could have expected that he would return to Minnesota eight years later as perhaps an even better offensive player.
Over the past seven seasons, Hunter has hit .289 and averaged 20 home runs, 86 RBI and 80 runs per season. Last year was no different with the Tigers when he hit .286 with 17 home runs, 83 RBI and 71 runs scored. Hunter hit .357 in spring training, going 15-for-42 with one home run, six RBI and five runs scored.
Hunter was asked if he thought he had a good last season with the Tigers.
“Oh yeah, I know I did. The results are in,” Hunter said. “You look at the numbers, but individually, yes, I had an OK season. All in all as a team I wish we could have went a little farther in the postseason. You win the division and you want to keep going. I think we failed in that sense as a team, but individually I think I played pretty well.”
How much longer does Hunter, who will turn 39 this season, think he can keep this up?
“Whatever God allows,” he said. “If I go out there and play well this year, we’ll take it one year at a time to see what happens. If I still have bullets left after this season, hitting .300 or whatever it may be, I don’t know if I can just give up if I have bullets in the tank.”
One of the big benefits the Twins are hoping for out of their former All-Star is to invigorate the clubhouse and be a vocal leader.
“I don’t have a method of changing a clubhouse, nobody has,” Hunter said. “I’m just a giver. I try to be fruitful. If I see someone down, I go talk to them whether it’s off the field or on the field. Because whatever is off the field actually affects what’s on the field. You have to be careful with that. I try to go talk to these guys and get to know them and counsel them.
“And all the wisdom that I’ve obtained over the years, and all the healed pain, I’m able to give it back. Whether it’s on the field, off the field, I try to help those guys financially with family issues or on the field, because I do know that I know the game of baseball. All I want to do is be fruitful, give it back, and make the game better, make those guys better than you were. That’s how you become a great leader, just making people around you better.”
If there is one thing Hunter doesn’t do, it’s lose. He has reached the playoffs in eight of the past 13 years, but this Twins club has lost 90 games or more in each of the past four. Can Hunter turn this club into a winner?
“It depends on their heart,” he said of his teammates. “My heart is already a winner. You try to instill some things and help them out, but one person can’t make a team a winner. Everybody has to get on that boat and row together. If we do that, and everybody is open to change, I think we can do it.”
Hunter was asked about the players who influenced him and instilled that sense of pride in winning early in his career.
“I definitely think that Paul Molitor and Matt Lawton, they had a lot to do what my career and taught me a lot of different things as far as the mental part of the game,” he said. “Seventy-five percent of the game is mental, I think he helped me out mentally. Molitor, man this guy is so bright. That’s why I came back.
“I loved to play with Molitor and learned so much. To think about me playing for him, I definitely think he’s a great leader, and he’s going to help a lot of these young guys out mentally because they have the physical attributes and the physical talent. You let them go out there and play, but help them mentally. A lot of things you can do mentally in this game to make a ballclub better.”
Hunter explained his history with his new Twins coach.
“I played with Molitor in ’98,” he said. “I was in spring training with him for three years; we had a lot of fun. I really looked up to him and talked to him and asked a lot of questions. He was willing to give the answers. Paul Molitor is not afraid to help these young guys out, and that’s what I really love about him.”
Gophers’ family connections
The Gophers football team recently received a commitment from Carter Coughlin of Eden Prairie. Not only did his grandfather, Tom Moe, play for the Gophers, but so did his father, Bob Coughlin. Now the coaches have another father-son connection of sorts in Colton Beebe, a fullback from the Kansas City area whose father played for Jerry Kill at Pittsburg State in Kansas.
Colton Beebe is a 6-2, 250-pound fullback who rushed 92 times for 301 yards and nine touchdowns and caught 21 passes for 236 yards and three touchdowns last season at Piper High School. The young Beebe helped lead his squad to a 10-2 record, losing to eventual Class 4A state champion Bishop Miege in the semifinals.
• The NFL requires a 100-foot security perimeter around the new Vikings stadium. “To get that 100 feet from the skin of the building, we have to take out 5th Street,” Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority spokeswoman Jennifer Hathaway told Finance and Commerce this week. So the Vikings had to make a deal with the city of Minneapolis to acquire portions of 4th and 5th streets for additional land near the stadium.
• Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley reports that the new scoreboard is going to cost $10 million-plus, and that will include both the main scoreboard and the LED ribbon scoreboards that will go around the stadium on three different levels. The scoreboard is being built by Daktronics Inc. out of Brookings, S.D., but will be manufactured by workers in Redwood Falls, Minn. Daktronics also has built the scoreboards for Target Field and Xcel Energy Center.
• The Raiders will have quite a connection to the Purple next season with former Vikings linebacker Jack Del Rio as their head coach, Bill Musgrave as their offensive coordinator, Mike Tice as their offensive line coach, Christian Ponder as a backup quarterback and former offensive linemen J’Marcus Webb on the roster.
• The latest mock draft from nbadraft.net has the Wolves taking Jahlil Okafor out of Duke with the No. 2 overall pick. Also in the mock draft is Tyus Jones, the Apple Valley product and Duke point guard, going at No. 22 to the Dallas Mavericks. Rashad Vaughn, who played at Robbinsdale Cooper and officially declared for the draft after one season at UNLV, is at No. 34 overall, the fourth pick in the second round, going to the L.A. Lakers. The website also has the Wolves taking Wichita State shooting guard Ron Baker with their first second-round pick at No. 32.