Tuesday, November 6, 2012

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By Brian Waller - AngelsWin.com Columnist

All good things must come to an end, and it appears as though fan favorite Torii Hunter’s days in a Halo’s uniform have come to an end; with the door only slightly cracked for the mayor of “Toriitown” to return. After signing a 5 year $90-million deal with the Angels on November 22, 2007 Hunter seemed like the perfect fit for the team. Sure his contract was a little on the pricey side and sure he didn’t appear on paper as the “impact” player the team had been seeking the previous season or so but none the less the marriage seemed perfect; it was consummated at a Del Taco after all.

From afar, I think we all could agree that Hunter was and is the type of player that any fan would love to have on their team. The former 1st round pick of the 1993 amateur draft spent 9 full seasons in Minnesota where he made two All-Star appearances and compiled 192 home runs, 711 rbi’s, swiped 126 bases all while hitting .271 with a .793 OPS. Perhaps Hunter’s most impressive attribute on the field was not his offense, but what he did defensively. In those same 9 seasons with the Twins, Hunter racked up 7 Gold Glove awards and proved himself to be one of the best defenders in Major League Baseball.

As an Angel fan I can honestly say I was pleased with the signing at the time and figured he would be a great addition to the team both offensively and defensively. What I didn’t take into consideration however was the impact Hunter would have on the Angels’ clubhouse as well as the Southern California community. Through the years Hunter has contributed to many charities including his own, the “Torii Hunter Project Education” Initiative, which provides college scholarships to students in California, Arkansas, Nevada and Minnesota. Hunter is also very involved in a partnership with Major League Baseball to help maintain and improve baseball diamonds in inner cities as well as the Prostate Cancer Foundation and the “Big Brother” program. In 2009 Hunter was acknowledged for his hard work in the community and charitable services when he was presented with the Branch Rickey Award; an honor bestowed upon those in the MLB that go above in beyond in the community and who show excellence in charity work.

Hunter became something the Angels hadn’t had since Tim Salmon retired; a face of the franchise. Hunter became the voice of the clubhouse, someone who from afar, seemed to put the team on his shoulders when needed and handled the media when things got rough. He was the cheerleader in the off season reaching out to players to sign with the Angels; players like Carl Crawford, C.J. Wilson, etc. As a fan it was both enjoyable and refreshing to see a player so passionate about his team he would take to Twitter and other media outlets to entice free agents to done Angels red; even though it didn’t always work out.  Hunter’s leadership qualities really became apparent when he voluntarily moved from center field to right field in 2011 to make room for a speedy Peter Bourjos and eventually Mike Trout. Rather than show bitterness and shun the up and coming players, Hunter took his years of knowledge and helped teach the youngsters because he knew it was best for the team. When you really take a step back and realize that a player who had won nine consecutive gold gloves in center field during his career made such an unselfish move you really appreciate just what type of player and person Hunter is.

Hunter would go on to become a solid contributor to the Halos on the field. He won his 8th and 9th Gold Glove awards while with the Angels and also won the only Silver Slugger award of his career in 2009 (thus far). Hunter made the All-Star team twice; most notably in 2010 when the All-Star game was hosted at the “Big A”. Although injury prevented Hunter from participating in the All-Star game it still gave the fans a tremendous sense of pride having one of their own and the face of the franchise voted in to the annual summer classic. Hunter would go on to hit 105 hr, 432 rbi’s, steal 60 bases and hit .286 with an .814 OPS during his 5 year stint in Anaheim; numbers that are not necessarily “eye popping” but again, his value cannot be measured in mere stats.

Watching a fan favorite change teams is never easy, it’s all most like a break up of sorts with the Angels telling Torii “it’s not you….it’s me”. Although both sides may appear to part ways amicably there always will be lingering feelings due to just how intermingled the two were due to Hunter being the face of the franchise. We all have our favorite “Torii moments” and although it is easy to get wrapped up and attached to players we do need to realize it is a business. Hunter has intangibles that can’t be given a stat and won’t show up on the back of a baseball card; how important those intangibles are remains to be seen. The Halos will most likely find out in 2013 what life is like without Hunter and hopefully the dollars saved are worth his absence and will be put to good use.
Love to hear what you think!

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