Not many things leave Torii Hunter speechless, Twins President Dave St. Peter said, but he discovered one late last month when he took part in a conference call with the newly retired Twins outfielder. "Rod Carew informed him he had been elected to the Twins Hall of Fame, and there was a long pause on the other end," St. Peter said. "It was clear how touched he was by the news."
The effect was similar on longtime radio play-by-play man John Gordon, and on Friday the franchise announced that the pair of Twins icons will receive the team's highest honor on July 16 and 17 at Target Field.
"It's special. It caught me off guard," Hunter said of becoming the 19th player elected to the team's Hall of Fame. "I thought, have I been retired five years already?"
Actually, players needed to wait two years after retirement, but that rule was scrapped this winter in hopes of avoiding a third straight season without an induction ceremony. Chuck Knoblauch was elected in 2014, but the team chose not to induct the All-Star second baseman after he was charged with assaulting his ex-wife in Houston, and in 2015 no former Twins received the required 60 percent of votes by an electorate of 66 media members, former players and Twins officials.
The nine-time Gold Glove winner, whose 212 home runs for the Twins ranks fifth in franchise history, was always going to be an easy choice for the honor. And the man whose signature "touch 'em all" call accompanied almost all of those homers was an obvious pick for the 23-member veterans committee, too.
"I was very humbled and quite surprised and, as you can imagine, quite happy," said Gordon, who called Twins games for 25 seasons, the first 13 of them alongside another Twins Hall of Famer, Herb Carneal. "Herb is the only other one, and there have been many very good broadcasters with the Twins over the years, so to be in the company of Herb is a great honor."
Gordon's Minnesota career began in 1987, coinciding with the team's first world championship, after having called Orioles and Yankees games. He retired after the 2011 season.
Hunter was a first-round pick by the Twins in 1993, and was a regular from 1999-2007, earning two All-Star invitations. He left as a free agent following the 2007 season but returned in 2015 for a one-year Minnesota encore, hitting .244, smacking 22 home runs and turning 40 years of age.
A (6-foot) net gain
The Twins so far are the only major league team to commit to installing 6-foot-high nets behind the dugouts this season, a move to increase safety from errant balls and bats, St. Peter said, but "I suspect most teams will have them within a few years. … In the long term, we decided leading on this issue is better than following."
He realizes, though, that season-ticket holders will not unanimously agree. "For some fans, [the problem] is not so much looking through the net," St. Peter said. "They feel they could lose the interaction with the players."
To minimize the effect, the Twins tested several nets and chose Dyneema's knotless design, a net that is less noticeable than the current protection behind home plate. The nets will be installed in mid-March.
• Carew, who on Saturday will make his first public appearance since suffering a major heart attack in September, is healthy enough to assume some of his coaching duties at spring training, St. Peter said, and plans to be in Fort Myers next month.
• Hunter, LaTroy Hawkins and Rick Aguilera have been added to the Twins' spring training staff as well, General Manager Terry Ryan said.
• Two interpreters will be hired to travel with the team this season, Ryan said, one fluent in Korean to accompany Byung Ho Park, and the other a Spanish speaker to help players from Latin American countries.
• Season ticket renewal rate was 90 percent this winter, St. Peter said, well up from the roughly 75 percent rate they recorded a year ago. The Twins expect to easily surpass last year's 14,000 season tickets sold.