Torii Hunter has already had one Minnesota farewell, one that had him wiping away tears on the sleeve of his uniform. He’s trying not to think too much about whether Sunday is his second goodbye.
The 40-year-old outfielder, the undisputed leader of the Twins’ overachieving underdogs, insists he doesn’t know if he will play in 2016, or whether Target Field’s season finale is also the final time he pulls on a major league uniform.
“There’s a possibility this could be my last game,” Hunter said in a somber clubhouse after the Twins’ hopes of a postseason invitation were officially dashed Saturday with a 5-1 loss to the Royals. “There’s a really good chance.”
That’s because he doesn’t know, in the immediate bleakness of elimination, whether he really wants to play past 40, and whether the Twins will invite him back. The latter has been considered a mere formality once Hunter began smashing home runs — 22 in all, with 81 RBI — but he knows better than anyone how many talented outfielders roughly half his age are on their way.
If the Twins suggest he return with quasi-emeritus status, perhaps play half the games? “I wouldn’t come back for that,” said Hunter, who has started 135 games this year. General Manager Terry Ryan has not discussed his plans for the team’s oldest player, but said, “We have a lot of things to talk about.”
Hunter is proud of his season, and proud of the influence he has had on the Twins, having transformed a library-quiet clubhouse into a rollicking, supportive bunch in his return after seven years away.
“It’s just so much fun and satisfying to give it back. All these young guys, seeing them all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, coming over and asking questions, that’s pretty cool,” he said. “For me to give it back and see those guys apply it to their lives and their career, it’s gratifying. It feels good.”
Paul Molitor noticed the difference. “The personality [of the team] was tremendous, reflected primarily by Mr. Hunter,” the Twins manager said. “He encouraged people to go ahead and give us a little flavor.”
Hunter plans to poll his wife, Katrina, and his sons. Torii Jr., a wide receiver at Notre Dame, planned to fly in after the Irish’s game at Clemson on Saturday night to be with his parents for the Twins’ finale.
Hunter heard the opinion of more than 30,000 Saturday, when he was serenaded with a chant of “Tor-ii, Tor-ii,” as he batted in the ninth inning, and a cheer when he drew a walk. “That was awesome,” said Hunter, who received a similarly emotional sendoff from Twins fans in his final home game of 2007, when it became clear the Twins wouldn’t pay to keep him. “Who more than the team I grew up with, the fans I grew up with — they’ve known me since I was 22 years old. I don’t know if this is it. I can’t say that. I can’t do a farewell tour. I definitely think there’s a chance to come back, but right now, I don’t know.”
For now, Hunter’s only plans are to become a modern-day football dad, alternating between Jonesboro, Ark., to see his son Money play for Arkansas State, and South Bend, Ind., to watch Torii Jr. with the Irish. He doesn’t plan to make a decision about 2016 until November, at the earliest, perhaps not until football season ends.
“I’ll sit back and make my decision after I train a little and see if it hurts,” he joked. “If it does, see ya!”