Wednesday, August 4, 2010

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By David Saltzer - AngelsWin.com Senior Writer

Years from now, Angels fans might look back on August 3rd, 2010 as the day the Peter Bourjos era began. He is a speedy, dynamic, defensively gifted outfielder who may become an integral part of the Angels’ future. But for me, I’ll remember the day as the day Torii Hunter became my favorite Angel player on the team.

No one likes getting older. When I close my eyes, I don’t picture myself as the person I am standing in front of the mirror. I picture myself as the person I was in my prime, about 10 years ago—the guy with the full head of hair, who could bench a lot more, and who weighed a bit less.

I’m just a few years older than Torii, so it’s not too hard for me to relate to the aging process. While my prime may have been a lot better than I am today, it never will come close to the athleticism that Torii had in his prime. Heck, my prime couldn’t touch his worst. So, it must be much harder for Torii to witness the inevitable toll that time takes on us all.

When Torii Hunter, a nine-time Gold Glove winner in centerfield to agreed to move to right field so that Peter Bourjos could take over center, it took a lot of humility on his part. Torii said "I didn't sleep for three, four days. I prayed about it, thought about it . . . I think we need to do something different.”

I’m sure that this decision didn’t come over easy for Torii. He’s a highly skilled, highly paid, and highly liked player. He’s vocal about what he thinks the team needs in order to win. He is the team’s de facto captain. He didn’t need to make this move. And yet, he did it. Rather than fighting it, he embraced it. In an era of mega-egos, Torii, the face of the franchise, owned the decision to take a back seat to the kid. "This is my decision. This isn't their decision." By stepping aside, he made the team better and gave the team its best shot to win.

As an Angels fan, I want to see the best players on the field playing their hardest every day. I want to see the players playing with passion—running out every play as if it were their only chance to win a spot on the field. I want the players playing selflessly, not selfishly. But more importantly, I want to see the Angels win. I want to see the players doing whatever it takes to win it all—even if it comes at the expense of their individual goals.

"I could say I want to go for that 10th Gold Glove . . . But sometimes you've got to slap pride in the face and all that individual stuff – the Gold Glove stuff – you can let that go . . . All I care about is winning, I need a ring. I've been to the playoffs seven times and haven't won anything. I haven't been to the World Series yet, not even to lose . . . If this makes the team better, I'm going to do it."

With those words and with his actions on the field, Torii showed me that his passion to win is as great as my passion to see the Angels win. He wants to win a ring as badly as I want to see them win another championship. He willingly put aside his personal goals to see the team win some bigger goals. As a fan, I couldn’t be more grateful to have him as a player.

Baseball teaches a lot of life lessons. Sometimes it says in order to win you have to swing for the fence and hit a home run—the ultimate individual achievement. But other times, it also says, in order to be a winner, you sometimes have to lay down a sacrifice. Over the years, I’ve seen Torii hit a lot of homers but I can’t recall ever seeing him lay down a bunt—until today. By moving aside for Bourjos, Torii laid down a perfect sacrifice for the team.

Ever since Tim Salmon retired, I’ve been asked by many people “who is my current favorite player on the team?” And, while there are plenty of good players to like, I haven’t had a clear favorite until now. Today I’m proud to say that Torii Hunter is my favorite current Angels player. He is the ultimate and rare champion—one who plays with a selfless passion to win.
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