Hunter gives thanks to Puckett at retirement ceremony
MINNEAPOLIS -- Next March will mark the 10th anniversary of Kirby Puckett's death. On Thursday, the day Torii Hunter officially retired after 19 seasons in the major leagues, he made a point of thanking one of his earliest mentors with the Minnes...
MINNEAPOLIS - Next March will mark the 10th anniversary of Kirby Puckett’s death.
On Thursday, the day Torii Hunter officially retired after 19 seasons in the major leagues, he made a point of thanking one of his earliest mentors with the Minnesota Twins.
“Watching him carry himself, you had no choice but to be infected,” Hunter told a packed news conference at Target Field. “He had a great smile. The way he moved about the room and the way he treated people - everybody - the same. Whether it’s the vendor or I don’t care who it was, he treated everybody the same.”
Hunter held himself to that same standard, and it showed once more during a lengthy goodbye conducted entirely without notes. He made sure he mentioned as many influences as possible, but it was Puckett, his predecessor as a Gold Glove center fielder at the Metrodome, who may have made the biggest impact.
“That’s something I watched as a youngster,” Hunter said. “You try to remember that as you get older, knowing these guys are watching you. You try to carry yourself as a professional and do it the right way. Kirby, I know you’re looking down, and I want to thank you for being that iron that I needed in my life.”
Tom Kelly, Hunter’s first big-league manager, and three of his former teammates - Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Corey Koskie - were among those on hand to pay their respects to Hunter. Despite hitting 22 home runs in his final season, the 40-year-old right fielder decided to end his playing career in order to spend more time with his wife and their three college-age sons.
Injuries weren’t the reason, he said. It was more the daily soreness and the extra maintenance required to remain a regular contributor 22 years after the Twins drafted him 20th overall out of Pine Bluff (Ark.) High School.
Katrina Hunter and her husband will celebrate their 19th wedding anniversary later this month. She sat in the front row and was the focus of his heartfelt thanks.
“Thank you for being there for my kids, raising my kids,” Hunter said. “I know I was out there trying to provide, and you raised those boys and whipped them into shape. You punished them when they needed to be punished. You helped them with their work. You drove them to school every day.
“You’re my foundation. Without you, I wouldn’t have any success. I thank you for everything. And now I’m coming home to you.”
Hunter, who earned $171 million during his career, has been in contact with multiple broadcast networks as he considers his post-retirement options. He also has interest in learning the front-office side of the baseball business, and the Twins are talking with him in hopes of adding him in a special assistant-type role.
Twins owner Jim Pohlad was taking the Hunters to dinner later Thursday.
“Baseball is in my blood,” Hunter said. “I definitely think I’m not walking away. I’m just transitioning. In the near future I’m definitely going to be in baseball - some way, some fashion, some form. Don’t know what it’s going to be.”
One thing Hunter never had a chance to be was a World Series participant. His 2,372 career games were the most among active players without reaching the Fall Classic.
The Kansas City Royals pursued him last offseason as well, and watching them win it all admittedly was hard for Hunter.
“I’m human,” he said. “I definitely sat at home (in Prosper, Texas) with my wife and watched the games. You’re kind of like, ‘Oh, man, they’re winning the World Series.’ ”
He did reach the postseason eight times in his career, including 2002, when his upstart Twins lost to the Angels in five games in the American League Championship Series. Hunter called that his favorite team as it survived the threat of contraction to end an 11-year postseason drought for the Twins franchise.
“We’re all brainwashed to win the World Series,” he said. “You have a lot of players that played the game, that are in the game, that haven’t had a chance to be in the playoffs. I had eight chances, and I’m thankful just to have those chances.
“Of course, I’m not the one that won the World Series. My going out without a championship, yeah, that’s tough, but I think that in the end I’ve had some success and I’ve been a champion just by learning so much in this game and giving it back.”
Should proteges such as the Angels’ Mike Trout or the Tigers’ Nick Castellanos or Mauer or Morneau go on to win a World Series one day, Hunter said he would feel a part of their glory.
“I’m still going to watch them, and when they win, I’m happy,” Hunter said. “When they win, I win. God had a different plan for me. I’m excited where I am. I don’t think about what I don’t have too much. I think about what I do have. I’m thankful.”
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with the Forum News Service