Torii Hunter, remember him?
July, 25, 2012
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireTorii Hunter can still on occasion prove that he's a very important player for the Angels.
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- For most of Torii Hunter's time in Anaheim, he was the conscience of his team, the player reporters sought for perspective.
He was the center of the clubhouse and, many times, the best player wearing an Angels uniform.
Now, he's probably the fifth-most visible player on the club, relegated to the shadows by the blinding talent of young Mike Trout, the universal celebrity of Albert Pujols and the emerging star power of Jered Weaver and Mark Trumbo.
Every once in a while, Hunter reminds everyone he's not just a Buddhist monk dispensing words of wisdom. He can still play this game.
Hunter was in the middle of the Angels' 11-6 win over the Kansas City Royals, going 4-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs -- this a day after taking such a beating diving for a line drive he said it was like getting hit by Ray Lewis.
Unlike some veterans who get crowded out near the ends of their careers and stew about it, Hunter seems to be enjoying this season. Come to think of it, he seems to enjoy every season.
"With Trout up and coming, the new thing, the five-tool player. ... I mean, he's special to me," Hunter said. "I can imagine the average fan, the media. This guy is something special. It's my goal to be fruitful and give him everything he needs, whether it's off the field or on the field to help his career and push his career.
"That's what I'm going to do as a veteran player. I'm not going to sit back and say, 'I'm jealous, whatever, whatever.' I'm 37! I mean 27! So, that's my job and goal in life and every veteran should do the same."
On the surface, it seems like such an easy call to let Hunter walk as a free agent following this season. Trumbo and Trout are stalwarts in the outfield. Peter Bourjos and Vernon Wells will need to be accommodated for playing time somewhere. There's not a lot of room for an aging outfielder.
But that day won't be easy, if it comes. Angels manager Mike Scioscia has a fondness for Hunter that comes in part from his easygoing personality and commitment to winning and in part from his consistency in the outfield and at the plate. He has seen Hunter emerge as the glue between Trout and Pujols in his lineup. Since being moved to the No. 2 spot, Hunter is batting .324.
"He's mentoring like he always does in the clubhouse," Scioscia said. "I wouldn't say he's rejuvenated. I've never seen Torii really down."