Torii full of pride watching Trout's evolution
ANAHEIM -- Torii Hunter watches Mike Trout, like so many others he has mentored over the years, with the unabashed pride of a parent -- or an involved big brother who has done his job well.
"He's my guy," Hunter said of the reigning American League Most Valuable Player Award winner and two-time All-Star Game MVP. "Trout sat next to me [in the Angels' clubhouse] and asked me all the questions in the world. It feels good to see him put to good use things he learned when we were teammates here with the Angels.
"I've got to commend his family -- his mom and dad -- for raising him right and teaching him those things that build character. You need to seek wisdom and understanding, and he's doing it here in the real world."
Trout was a 19-year-old in 2011, figuring things out in a backup role. In 2012, Hunter's fifth and final season with the Halos, Trout broke out with a season for the ages. As the legend has grown, Trout emerging as the game's premier player, Hunter has moved moved from Detroit back to his original Minnesota home with a youthful Twins team benefitting from his vast experience and leadership.
Returning this week to Anaheim, Hunter was greeted by familiar chants from fans who admired his play on the field and work off the field as a man of the community.
"They appreciate that I came to play every day, ready to win," Hunter said. "They show me their love, every time I'm here. A piece of my heart's still here. They adopted me here when I left the Twins [in 2008], and I still love them."
Despite having parted as teammates, Trout and Hunter have remained in constant contact over the past three years. They talk about twice a week, Hunter said.
"He knows everything out there -- I learned so much from Torii," Trout said of the nine-time Gold Glove Award-winning outfielder who moved from center to right in 2010 to accommodate Peter Bourjos and then Trout. "I still think about things he taught me, like visualizing a play before it happens.
"Before at-bats, we're talking in the outfield about things to look for, what a hitter might do with a certain pitch. That's one of the things I learned from Torii, who was always talking out there. He taught me to know which base I was going to throw to before the pitch.
"I still talk to Torii and shoot him a text now and then. He's always available."
Hunter turned 40 on Saturday when the Twins were in Oakland. He was totally surprised on Sunday night by a group of teammates and ex-teammates hosting a Spiderman-themed party at a restaurant close to his former home in Newport Beach, Calif. His wife led him there; Torii, as always, was the life of the party.
Hunter, by nature, holds nothing back and gives much more than he takes.
The Matt Carpenter story -- how Torii embraced the Cardinals star when Carpenter was a raw high school kid in Texas and sponsored his attendance in skills-building baseball camps -- is endearing, but it's just the tip of an iceberg. Hunter has forged lasting relationships by extending wisdom and advice to dozens of players in both leagues.
"It's like being a big brother," Hunter said. "They can't receive anything until you build a relationship first. They can't take information if they don't know me. Spring Training is perfect for taking guys to dinner, talking about life. That's where it usually starts.
"That's what we all should do as men. After everything I've been through -- all the failures and mistakes -- I've made adjustments and learned from it. I call it 'heal pain.' I'm able to give it back now. Watching all these guys I've worked with and helped, seeing how they've grown, it's a great feeling."
Hunter mentored Denard Span, his successor in center in Minnesota and now a Washington National, and now has under his wing Aaron Hicks, from Wilson High School in Long Beach, just up Interstate 5 from Anaheim and the Urban Youth Baseball Academy in Compton.
"Torii's teaching me how to prepare better," said Hicks, a superb defender in center with developing offensive skills. "He's showing me how to have a game plan. He's a great guy and a great teammate."
Byron Buxton, the supremely talented Twins prospect, is another Hunter protégé, finding his way as Trout did before him.
The gold standard now, not just in center field but in the sport, Trout in a sense is Torii's masterpiece. The bond endures.
"He's come a long way -- but it was always there, I knew that," Hunter said. "He was blessed with God-given ability and the desire to get better. When he does something most people don't know how to do, I'll think to myself, 'Man, I taught him that.' It's a feeling of joy."