Hunter every bit as good a person as he is ballplayer
DETROIT -- Any discussion of players who are sincerely liked and admired throughout baseball must include Torii Hunter.
Now, any discussion of players with 2,000 or more hits must also include Hunter. The Tigers right fielder reached that landmark Tuesday afternoon at Comerica Park in Detroit's 7-3 victory over Toronto.
And Hunter didn't ease onto this lofty career plateau, either. He had three hits, including a double Tuesday. Thus, he became the 14th active Major League player with 2,000 or more hits.
"Certainly, congratulations to Torii," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "That's a nice milestone for him, and we're awfully happy he got it in a Tigers uniform."
Hunter's career may have its largest impact in the field. He has been one of the finest outfielders in the game. Hunter won nine consecutive Gold Glove Awards as a center fielder, and he made the sensational catch almost a matter of routine.
The Tigers signed Hunter as a free agent in the offseason.
"He's going to add because he's a two-way player," Leyland said of Hunter's contributions. "He's a total player, and he's a two-way player. I've always stressed to any organization where I've managed, get as many two-way players as you can. You can normally get by with one guy who can swing the bat, but you've got to get as many two-way players as you can."
Hunter's career essentially has been one of being a winning presence on winning teams. He has been on six teams that qualified for the postseason -- four with the Twins, two with the Angels.
Hunter believes that this Detroit team has the potential to be better than any of those clubs. Here, he hopes, he can fill in the one component missing from his career.
"My first hit was off Arthur Rhodes in Baltimore in 1998," Hunter recalled. "He was throwing like 99 miles per hour and I got a hit to right field. I was thankful for that moment. I was like, 'I got a hit. I can quit now.' But 2,000 hits later, here I am, still trying to win a [World Series] championship.
"A World Series ring, that's all we care about, getting to the World Series and winning that thing. ... This is probably the best lineup I've ever been a part of. And the potential, I definitely think, is the best."
Hunter has only been a Tiger for seven games, but when he singled in the sixth inning off Esmil Rogers for the 2,000th hit, the Comerica Park crowd of 28,979 gave him a long standing ovation.
"These guys have seen me grow," Hunter said. "I was with the Twins, 22 years old and I get called up to the big leagues. Some of these people probably saw me hit my first home run, back in old Tiger Stadium. Even though I was on the opposing side, they still have the respect for me. These guys have seen me grow. They've seen me swing at a slider in the dirt, and now I spit on it.
"That's why I thank these fans, man. That's why I love it here. I feel like I'm at home. I don't feel out of place. And that's why I'm playing well."
"Playing well," probably doesn't cover it. Hunter is hitting .424 for the Tigers, making the No. 2 spot in the Detroit lineup a gold mine of possibilities.
It may be that Hunter's defense was so good that people didn't notice that he could also be a run producer.
"My defense probably has overshadowed my offense. I won a Silver Slugger (in 2009), how about that?" Hunter said with a smile. "I think my defense overshadowing my offense kind of hurt me, but I can play a little bit."
What you get with Hunter extends even beyond the offense and the defense. He has a sense of humor that he can point at himself with ease. He has a relentlessly positive, upbeat approach that anyone who comes into contact with him can appreciate.
Hunter had this as a young player with the Twins. He had it as a veteran with the Angels. And now, three months away from his 38th birthday, he still has it with the Tigers. His playing ability has not dwindled noticeably. His personality hasn't been diminished, either.
"That shows you it's not fake," Hunter said. "My grandmother, my mother, my brothers, my dad, everybody in the family, we have fun. We laugh, we crack jokes all the time. We still have issues, we still have problems. But hey, man, I'm playing baseball every day. I'm going to enjoy it.
"This is my safe haven. Whatever is going on in my family, or going on off the field, I come here, it's like a breath of fresh air. This is my safe haven, baseball, the stadium. This is just me. I'm excited."
Hunter was asked what he did with the baseballs from his milestone hits.
"I put them in my office on a pedestal with a light shining on them and a noise that goes aaaaaaaaaah," Hunter said, making a high-pitched noise that was at once melodic and eerie. His audience of reporters dissolved into laughter, which of course, was his intention in the first place.
The 2,000 hits told you part of the value of Hunter's baseball career. The fact that he used this as an occasion to bring some laughter and enjoyment to the people around him told you part of his value as a human being.