Thursday, August 28, 2008

Baseball is Back and so is Torii

Baseball is Back and so is Torii

February 22, 2006

Baseball is Back and so is Torii
Insight from the Wall Climber himself
by Jeff Barthel

For baseball fans, this is the time of year you get that “itch”—you know the season is just a few weeks away, yet you wish it began tomorrow. As for baseball in Minnesota, one of its most revered athletes can’t wait to get back to playing the sport he so cherishes.

“It was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced,” Twins centerfielder Torii Hunter says of the ankle injury he suffered last season. “I had a slight crank in my ankle and my talus (a.k.a. anklebone, which bears the weight of the entire body), and I had some ligaments that were stretched … that was the worst pain ever.”

The event occurred July 27 at Boston’s Fenway Park, since then, much to the delight of Hunter, he has fully healed. The Major League Baseball veteran entering his 10th season shared his appreciation for modern medicine.

“Surgery’s so easy these days, 20 years ago if I had a knee problem they’d have to cut your leg open and you’d have to wait a year before you’d come back,” says Hunter.

Known for his death-defying, wall-climbing, homerun-robbing catches, the Gold Glove centerfielder also says there’s no chance he’ll change his style because of the injury. “All I want to do is go out there and play hard and if [injury] happens, it happens,” says Hunter, “but I’m still gonna run into that wall, you can believe that.”

After his incident with the Fenway wall occurred, making things tougher for Torii, the injury rendered him unable to play the final two months last season. It frustrated him, he could only watch as his Twins fell from playoff contention and finished in third. Then, to add insult to his injury, Hunter also had to witness Minnesota’s arch-nemesis (the Chicago White Sox) waltz through the playoffs and win a World Championship.

“It was tough man, sitting at home,” says Hunter about watching the 2005 MLB playoffs from his home in The Colony, Texas. “I felt (as a team) we should have been there because we made in three years in a row and we failed every time. And now Chicago, after three years of us winning (the AL Central), they win it on the first try,” adds Hunter, with dismay.

Although Torii is grateful to be a Twin, he does admit to being a tad bit jealous of Chicago. Over the off-season, he caught up with former teammate and current White Sox catcher, A.J. Piersynski. The two appeared on FSN’s Best Damn Sports Show together, where AJ was able to give Torii an up-close look of his shiny, new ring.

When asked his relationship with Piersynski, Hunter smiles and talks of spending many good times with his “buddy.” He says the two enjoy sharing off-season ventures such as getting together for golf or a trip to Vegas together in the off-season. So then, what happens when Torii’s coming in to score and there’s a play with A.J. standing at the plate?

“What I always tell him is when I’m rounding third and your there standing with the ball, I’m going to have to take you out,” says Hunter, “then he’s like ‘well Torii, I’m ready for you.’”

Hunter (who stands 6-foot-2, weighs 220 pounds) takes pride in the fact he played football and confidently claims he’s stronger than the 6-foot-3-inch, 240-pound Piersynski. Despite his no-fear attitude, he does recognize an advantage for A.J.—his
catcher’s gear.

“He’s the one who’s got a chance to survive and I don’t,” says Hunter with thoughts of a collision with Piersynski, “so we’ll see who survives.”

Putting last season to rest, Torii is excitedly preparing for 2006. And with him, he’ll take his fifth Gold Glove—a prestigious award that sometimes slips under the radar, especially when it’s given in the off-season and the team is no longer hot news.

Torii’s Gold Glove collection now adds up just one short of his childhood idol, Twins Hall of Fame centerfielder, two-time World Champ and owner of six Gold Gloves, Kirby Puckett. With all due respect to Puckett, thinking of Torii’s Twins of today—with Hunter playing in his prime, and as Twins fans of today adoringly cheer “Torii, Torii” just as the team’s fans of the late ’80s and early ’90s affectionately screamed “Kirby, Kirby,”—has then the centerfielding baton been passed?

“When I first signed with the Twins, I knew about Kirby Puckett and that he was the guy who made all the plays here,” says Hunter recalling his younger years. “Kirby Puckett was one of the players I definitely admired and respected.”

When asked about the thought of passing Puckett in Gold Gloves Torii recognizes Kirby’s greatness, humbly responding, “Oh man, how ‘bout one more.”

Hunter went on to speak about this coming season, about the White Sox acquisition of Jim Thome, Chicago’s improved pitching staff and all the challenges he’s excited to face, but for now, he’ll get set for training and bonding with new teammates—such as ex-Marlins Gold Glove second baseman Luis Castillo, power-hitting third baseman Tony Batista and new hitting coach, Joe Vavra.

Although Hunter suffered disappointment this past off-season: his injury, the White Sox, as well as the departure of long-time teammate (and close friend) Jacque Jones. Hunter says he’s confident in what players like Batista, Castillo and ex-Tigers slugger Rondell White can do.

So, as another calendar page turns and spring training begins, another exciting season of watching Torii Hunter and his Twins will soon begin.

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