A Twins fan from afar is dismayed that his favorite team has the worst record in the American League.
Yes, Torii Hunter is just as perplexed as everyone else about the state of Twins baseball these days.
“They can’t finish games,” the retired 40-year-old outfielder said by phone from his home in Prosper, Texas. “They can’t get a clutch hit. There’s no fight right now.
“They are kind of going through the motions.”
Hunter, who played his 19th and final season with the Twins last year, has watched many of their games and seen the carnage. The Twins enter a series at Cleveland with an 8-25 record that is the worst start in franchise history.
Many things clicked for the Twins last year when they went 83-79, including Hunter’s presence. From helping with strategy on the field to mentoring young players, the five-time All-Star provided everything the Twins hoped he would last season — in addition to 22 homers and 81 RBI.
“What we did last year was great,” Hunter said. “Guys fell in line and we had a great clubhouse, great chemistry, and it just spilled onto the field. A pitcher would struggle in his start early and we were like, ‘Let’s see how we bounce back.’
“They haven’t quite turned the corner yet this year. Sometimes it takes being humbled and then you get that feeling back that you have to fight and work hard. The guys are really going through it right now.”
With Hunter gone, the Twins were supposed to continue to grow, but the opposite has happened. Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe have tried to take on greater leadership roles, but it hasn’t translated into wins.
Since he’s no longer in the clubhouse, Hunter is not sure exactly what he would say to teammates if he were still playing. He usually gets a feel for the mood at the time and just reacts.
One thing he does know is that it’s dangerous to expect inexperienced players to develop quickly, which the Twins hoped from Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, Tyler Duffey and even Byung Ho Park.
“These guys are young and don’t know what they are supposed to be in the major leagues,” Hunter said. “Great talents, but they are trying to figure things out while the league figures them out.”
While the losing continues, the Twins are seeing how their young players handle adversity.
“You can look at a guy and see he has all the talent in the world,” Hunter said, “but how’s his heart and his fire?”
Hunter has spent his first year in retirement traveling, investing in businesses and playing golf with a group of former professional athletes that includes Michael Finley, Spud Webb and Tim Brown. But Hunter has been there for Twins players who have needed advice.
“I know he texts a bunch of people around here,” said Dozier, who was anointed by Hunter at the Diamond Awards in January as the one who should embrace a leadership role.
Hunter has had several conversations with Buxton while he was with the Twins and since the top prospect has been demoted to Class AAA Rochester. Hunter has swapped messages with Dozier, Plouffe, Eduardo Escobar and others when they asked for advice. But it’s different than being in the clubhouse.
“I just try to encourage them to keep going,” said Hunter, who will visit the Twin Cities June 10-12 when Boston and former teammate David Ortiz come to town. “That’s all you can do, man. You don’t always throw the bad things at these guys. These guys have a bunch of bad at-bats then have 15 good at-bats, I want them to look at those 15 good at-bats as much as they can and try to take all the positives out of them and apply it. Instead, they look at the bad things. They look at the bad swings, watch video and try to figure it out.”
Hunter can only imagine what manager Paul Molitor and the Twins coaching staff are going through, after entering the year with raised expectations.
“They probably feel worse than the players,” Hunter said. “They want those players to turn the corner, and to see this happen as a coach you would hate for them to go through that. At the same time, whoever comes out of this and makes the adjustment, it makes you a better person and a better player.”