LAKELAND, Fla. – Torii Hunter’s plan this season seems pretty obvious: Detroit’s new right fielder is going to try to smile his way to the World Series.
You don’t want to look back on your career and say, I didn’t have enough fun,’ Hunter said at the Tigers’ spring training complex.
Hunter, 37, the former Fort Wayne Wizards player, is already living up to his reputation as one of the game’s most engaging people.
When I first came up with the Indians, I used to play against (Hunter) in Minnesota, designated hitter Victor Martinez said. He told me one thing when I was a rookie, and I have never forgot: Don’t ever lose your smile. No matter what happens, just keep smiling and keep enjoying the game.’
Hunter played 10 seasons with the Twins and five with the Los Angeles Angels, but he has never been to the World Series. Detroit needed a right fielder, and he signed a two-year deal with the Tigers in November.
Detroit has won two AL Central titles in a row and went to the World Series last year, where the Tigers lost to the San Francisco Giants. Now Hunter joins a clubhouse full of confident stars, led by a manager who knows how to avoid drama even when the scrutiny intensifies.
All those guys are so down to earth. It’s easy to fit in, Hunter said. This team was already great without me, so that’s why I chose here. If you can’t beat ’em, you’ve got to join ’em.
Hunter and Tigers manager Jim Leyland already have a relationship. The two would talk behind the batting cage when their teams faced each other – Hunter liked kidding the skipper for wearing spikes.
I think that’s actually how we became friends, Leyland said. I’ve probably talked to him as much as I have any opposing player I ever managed against. I don’t know. We just hit it off.
As much as the Tigers enjoy Hunter’s personality, he is being paid to hit. Detroit struggled at times last year because sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder were carrying too much of the burden offensively. Martinez’s return from a knee injury should help, and Hunter is coming off a season in which he hit a career-best .313 with 16 home runs.
Hunter is proud of his consistency. Before last year, he had hit at least 21 homers in six straight seasons.