On September 25, 2013 Tigers’ fans watched their team gather on the diamond at Target Field in Minnesota and proceed to celebrate in a way that we hadn’t been privy to before. As you’ve surely seen many times since then, the entire team huddled together in a circle, their roars booming through the infield, as they moved together in a synchronized display of energy and camaraderie and victory. During the sparkling cider fueled locker room celebration, many players were asked where the on field display came from. All of them pointed to one player: Torii Hunter.
In the previous offseason, no Tigers’ move excited me more than the signing of Torii Hunter. Sure, I was ecstatic to have his bat in the lineup, especially as he was coming off his most successful season at the plate ever, batting average wise, with a line of .313/.365/.451. And his glove, though slowed more than his bat in his advancing age, was an undoubted upgrade to the defensive duds Detroit had been displaying in right field. But Torii’s stats weren’t driving my excitement. No, it was not Torii Hunter the ballplayer that had me seeing World Series rings, it was Torii Hunter the leader; Torii Hunter the man.
It was the last game of a rotten home series against Oakland last season, and Hunter had the chance to salvage a scrap, to keep the ninth inning going after a series of hits by his teammates, to undo a bit of heartbreak caused by the ugliness of the previous games. A base hit would go a long way towards tying the game, a home run would mean a walk-off win. As a fan, in that at bat, you find yourself wondering just how clutch is Torii Hunter. The home run he sent out into the left field seats was the resounding response.
Hunter’s scary flip over the Red Sox bullpen door in the ALCS was just another example of Torii being Torii, doing everything he can to try and propel his team to the win. It was a great show of leading by example, even if it didn’t end the way the Tigers’ faithful, and Hunter himself, hoped it would.
Torii Hunter teaches the other Tigers’ players daily how to be successful in not only MLB, but in life. He’s quick with a smile but isn’t one to stifle emotions, even if they’re negative. He is a genial person on and off the field, but doesn’t allow that to be mistaken for weakness. He plays hard in every fielding situation, and works every at bat like it’s the most important of the season. And he allows the success of those around him to blossom without needing the spotlight for himself.
Hunter is the definition of a team player, and if the Tigers’ have a chance to win it all this season, a lot of that can be attributed to having Torii on and off the field, showing the new kids how it’s done and reminding the veterans that there is always an opportunity to be better tomorrow than you are today.