My Torii Experience
I met Torii once back when he still
owned his home in
“Oh… Hey Torii,” I said somewhat startled and surprised.
“Hey how’s it going?” he replied.
In hindsight I should’ve been reaching for something for him to autograph but like I said it was still early for me and I wasn’t exactly thinking clearly; plus all I had in front of me was a big pile of oranges. I’m glad though, that I didn’t bother him too much, because I’m sure he just wanted to get out of the house and start a day of normally. “It’s going, it’s going. You?” was all I could come up with.
“Ah, man I’m just tired”
“Yeah, late night uh” I said, referring to the fact that they had gone quite a few extra innings the night before.
“Yeah (pointing at his wife) she kept me up all night.”
“Ah…” (I faked a look that I understood, but really, I was just surprised that he had just shared that information with me).
The Torii Hunter Story
Over this past off-season there was a ton of speculation that Torii was going to be traded. On the one hand there were the guys like the Yankee reporters claiming that Torii would find his way into pinstripes for 2006 because he’s the best candidate to fill their gap in CF. I remember one particularly annoying reporter saying that one potential trade could involve Torii for Carl Pavano. This being a completely ignorant and pompous claim, assuming the Yankees can just dump their trash for an All-Star center fielder like Torii Hunter. Plus like we really need more pitching… Anyways, on the other hand there was the blogging community. Many men, who I greatly respect, talked about how overrated Torii was as a centerfielder and how replaceable his offensive capabilities are. I hope this little tribute proves otherwise. See, it was through that little encounter that I had, that one can really understand the type of guy Torii is. Torii speaks his mind. He is honest and upfront and while you might not want to hear, at least you know where he stands.
The biggest reason why I consider
Torii to be so vital to this ball club is that he his name has become
synonymous with Twins success. In 2001,
in Torri’s first full year as a starter, the Twins finished above .500 for the
first time since 1992. While Torii had already established himself as the Twins
starter in centerfield before 2002, his breakthrough also marked the beginning
of a new era for the Minnesota Twins. In
2002 Torii was the first Twin to be a starter in the All Star game since Kirby
Puckett started in CF in 1995. Having
already hit 20 HR’s, Torii also got the full All Star treatment by
participating in the annual Homerun Derby. However, it was in the
first inning in that game that Torii captured the hearts of Minnesotans and
fans everywhere. The nation watched as
Torii ran to the wall, leapt up and stole a homerun from Barry Bonds. One minute we stared awe struck, the next
minute we laughed as Barry came rushing out into the outfield to hoist Torii
onto his shoulders. I was still pretty
young when I witnessed that spectacle, but surprisingly that moment holds more
significance to me now. In my mind
Torri’s catch demonstrated a small triumph over something that has destroyed
baseball. See while Torii’s out there
playing his heart out basically living his dream, guys like Bonds, expect fans
to respect what they do. They expect us
to believe as they lightly flail their arms at the baseball and effortlessly hit
homeruns, they expect us to believe that their consistent injuries are just due
to old age, they expect us to believe that they just need to lose 30 lbs in one
off-season to take pressure of their precious knees. Well I don’t buy it anymore and anyone who
wants to call me out on my claims, feel free to do so. After the All-Star game the Twins rallied out
of their decade long slump and made the playoffs for the first time since 1991,
winning the division in the process. That year the Twins established themselves as a legit, beating
The Real Torii Hunter
Torii’s breakout year in 2002 drove the Minnesota Twins to their first of three division titles, and his injury this past season marked the end of that streak. Obviously Torii is not single-handedly responsible for the Twins success, but I find this fact to be quite telling of who Torii is to this team. See after his very successful season in 2002, the organization was thrilled with Torii’s playmaking ability in CF. But what they were hoping they had found was that guy who could change games with his bat. As much as they wanted Torii to be that guy, Torii subconsciously declared that he would not be that guy. After the first half of 2002, Torii had already hit 20 HR, yet he only managed to hit 9 more the rest of the season, failing to become the first Twin to hit 30HR’s since 1987. Similarly Torii proved he was not a clean-up hitter as he has shown that he is much more productive from the 5 spot. See as much as we’ve needed that game changing ability at the plate, Torii has proven time in and time out that he is a game saver, not a game changer. This fact becomes most apparent when we start talking about all the homeruns and doubles he saves while playing in the outfield. Further, even though Torii has become so intrinsically tied with Twins success he is at his best when others on the team are struggling.
Watching Torii at the plate can sometimes be very frustrating. Torii has proven that he is one of the best hitting centerfielders in the game, but still there is much too be desired. Mainly, he is not a big average hitter. Torii hit .289 in 2002 but after that he has basically developed into a .270 hitter. Secondly, Torii is very much a hacker. As much as you may want to change that, you probably can’t. It just has too much to do on how he was raised. Torii was not only pursuing a dream to become a major leaguer, he was also pursuing a dream in which he could right some of the wrongs in his family. He wanted to be able to support his parents and his siblings. He wasn’t going to be able to do that by watching pitches go by at the plate, he had to accomplish that by swinging his bat. So yes Torii will strikeout more than 100 times in a full season, and no he will not accumulate a very high on-base percentage. Finally, Torii has a tendency to be very streaky. Torii has some very good months but he also has some very bad months, the good thing though is that he tends to be very reliable down the stretch. While he may be somewhat frustrating, he has proven to be very inspiring with his bat. As I mentioned before, Torii is not a game changer, but a game saver. He is the same at the plate as he is on the field in that respect. Over the past couple of years, Torii is at his best inspiring teammates to not give up. He is out there saving the team, keeping them around .500 in any given month as opposed to letting them fall below that mark. Similarly, he has very much become a big game hitter. While other teammates are bowing before teams like the Yankees and the Angels (both teams we had lost to in the playoffs), Torii is out there trying to inspire confidence. In looking at teams that the Twins have played somewhat regularly over the past three years, Torri has put up some of his best marks against the Yankees (.302BA) and the Angels (.284BA). On the same note Torii is a lifetime .304 hitter in the playoffs with a .522 SLG percentage. For the Twins in 2006, Torii will remain vital as the teams only proven power threat from the right side of the plate, so losing him would be quite damaging.
Defensively, there’s no disrespecting Torii’s game. Not only has he proven that he has the talent to make game saving catches, every day he has also proven that he is willing to give it is all, often times sacrificing himself for the team. Some may say that Torii is reckless in CF and that he doesn’t consider the after effects of what happens if and when he injures himself. But considering the way he has conducted himself, I think it’s a true testament that he’s only had two major injuries over the past seven years. I think it’s also a testament to how well he’s familiar with his abilities. Sure you might notice that Torii will make a catch look a lot better than it is with a dive or a jump. But as I’ve mentioned before with this, for anyone who’s actually played baseball, often times it’s much safer to plan on making a jump or a dive as opposed to not and then falling unexpectedly. Torii has already declared that despite his most recent ankle injury he will not change the way he plays baseball. And I know for a fact that slowing down is not the way he approaches life, so I did not expect that to happen anyways. I look forward to again watching Torii crashing into walls and diving into the turf to make the catch. Thank you Spiderman for making every pop-fly and line-drive to centerfield into something to cheer about.
Torii has also established himself as a very good base stealer. While the Twins have seen a good deal of speed talent on the team in such guys like Luis Rivas and Christian Guzman, nobody but Torii has developed any kind of skill on the base paths. See while Rivas and Guzman were lazily sitting around wasting their natural born talent, Torii was taking the lead learning how to get good jumps of pitchers. In 2006, yes Torii might lose a step because of his ankle injury, but I think that he will emerged as a 30 SB threat because of the knowledge and skill he’s developed. This aspect of his game proves hands down, the leadership he implores on this team.
As far as
Torii’s clubhouse presence, after his absence in the second half of 2005, there
is no doubt in my mind that he was sorely missed. Yes there was the incident with Justin
Morneau, but in all sincerity we, the fan base, had no business knowing about
that. Little (yes little) incidents like
that happen all the time and nobody ever hears about it because it stays in the
clubhouse. As I mentioned before, Torii speaks
his mind, and unfortunately he may have gone too far with Morneau. To me that’s a testament to his role when
he’s in the clubhouse. He is the most
vocal player in there, keeping guys’ heads up or calling them out when
necessary. While he may inspire on the
diamond, his role as a leader behind the scenes is even more vital to this
team. After last year, this team’s
mentality was on a serious low. Prospects had not lived up to expectations, and veterans were struggling
to make up any difference. All said,
this team was projected to go deep in to the playoffs; instead they struggled
to stay above .500. Torii will be
instrumental in 2006 to leading these guys back to a winning mentality, because
frankly that’s what he’s known during his time in
- I know I said I'd post my thoughts and predictions for the other divisions, but this post took me a lot longer than I planned on but I will be posting some of that soon.
- Looking ahead to April, I am of course excited to see two Cy Young hopefuls battling it out opening day. Johan tends to start out the season slow, so I might give the edge to Halladay, but should be an amazing matchup so we will see. Personally I'm more excited that the Twins have a change to welcome A.J. Burnett American League style. Personally, I believe he's a jerk who plays when he wants to, obviously now he'll want to. The Twins have had a good deal of success against hard throwing righties, so we we'll see!
- This End of an Era? deal has a couple of parts and then I'll get into some of the players of the new era so I hope you enjoy it!