DETROIT -- Torii Hunter spent just two seasons as a Tiger at the back end of a 19-year Major League career. The reception he has received in his return this weekend shows how much respect he earned in that small time, on and off the field."Torii Hunter is clearly an
DETROIT -- Torii Hunter spent just two seasons as a Tiger at the back end of a 19-year Major League career. The reception he has received in his return this weekend shows how much respect he earned in that small time, on and off the field.
"Torii Hunter is clearly an A-1 class person, and a true class act, one of our great ambassadors of the game," general manager Al Avila said Friday at the Tigers' annual Negro Leagues Legacy Luncheon, where Hunter was honored with the team's Willie Horton African American Legacy Award. "If we had to do it all over again, Torii, I just want to let you know we wished you would've spent a lot more years with the Tigers than with the Twins. But I know your former manager here with us is glad it worked out that way."
As Hunter spoke Friday at Comerica Park's Tiger Club, he had an audience at his total attention, telling stories about his playing days, about growing up under Ron Gardenhire's leadership in Minnesota, about his time in Detroit, and about doing what he can now to help grow the game in the community. The reception he received in return humbled him.
"It means a lot, not just what you do on the field," Hunter said. "Sometimes you look at yourself and your reflection in the mirror, but a lot of people watching on the sidelines, they see you more than you see yourself. So when I hear those comments, the way I treated people, or what I did in the community, I think that speaks volumes of the character that was built in me by my mom, all that discipline."
Gardenhire has a treasure trove of stories about Hunter's younger years with the Twins, about Hunter claiming in the dugout that he had picked up an opponent's pitches, about Hunter prank-calling Gardenhire's Sunday morning radio show in Minnesota and about the years Hunter became a star.
"I love this guy," Gardenhire said.
The love and respect is mutual.
"Gardy embraced me at 18 years old," Hunter said. "I was a teenager with the Twins in big league camp and I asked him a whole bunch of questions that I wouldn't even think about asking anybody else, and Gardy actually sat there and helped me along the way. He was one of the guys willing to embrace me and show me the ropes. He did a lot for me, and then became my manager in 2002, and just showed me how to have fun, enjoy the game, play the game that you were born to play but have fun while you're playing it. Enjoy every moment because there's an expiration date for all of us."
The expiration date on Hunter's Tigers career came after the 2014 season, and on his playing career a year later. Yet while he currently holds a job as a special assistant with the Twins, he still holds an affinity for Detroit, the city as well as the club. The current Tigers, he said, remind him of his Twins in '01, talented and hard-nosed enough to compete to the last out, but not yet good enough to win consistently.
"This city has embraced me," Hunter said. "They adopted me as one of the family. My wife loves it here. I love it here. I think I had the best two years of my career here in Detroit. Never wanted to leave, but I understand the business side of baseball, been through it several times. We still try to stay abreast on a lot of different things, a lot of the charities we were involved in when we were here, we try to stay in contact and see how they're doing and progressing, and step in every once in a while if we can and give them a lift."
Tigers management, too, still has a fondness for Hunter.
"This is not tampering by any means," Avila said, "but instead of just a few days at Comerica Park, we'd like you to spend a few years with us, too. So hopefully one of these days, you can come back for a long time."
• The Tigers will have three officials at the University of Florida on Saturday to watch top pick Casey Mize take on the Gators in the NCAA super-regional, scouting director Scott Pleis said. Though the Tigers already decided on Mize, they want to track how he performs, and they've yet to decide how much, if at all, he'll pitch this summer.
• JaCoby Jones was out of the Tigers' lineup for Friday's series opener against Indians righty Trevor Bauer, one night after Jones struck out four times in Boston. Gardenhire said Jones is working with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon on his approach at the plate.
"I love this kid," Gardenhire said. "I'm giving him a day, just like anybody else."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.