MINNEAPOLIS — Thankfully for Minnesota, the Chicago White Sox won’t have any former Twins center fielders on their roster when they come to town on Tuesday.
For the third straight series, the Twins were done in by one of their former center fielders. First, it was Denard Span last weekend with his new Washington Nationals squad. Then it was former Twin Ben Revere tormenting Minnesota in the series finale Thursday at Target Field.
The guy who paved the way for Span and Revere got the last laugh in a long line of former Twins center fielders. Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter, who spent his first 11 seasons in Minnesota, went 2-for-5 with a two-run home run and an RBI double on Sunday to help Detroit earn a 5-2 win and a series victory.
Hunter had a bottle of Dom Perignon waiting for him on ice when he got back to the Tigers clubhouse following the win. The occasion? His first-inning homer was the 300th of his career. It just so happened to come against his former team.
“Individually, its special,” Hunter said. “I just wanted one. To get 300 home runs in the major leagues, this is a tough game to play. That’s what I’ve learned over my years. To hit 300 home runs, I can tell my grandkids, and I’ve got proof.”
Hunter took Twins starter P.J. Walters deep on a 2-0 fastball in the first inning. He planted it into the left field bleachers and was greeted by hugs from his current Tigers teammates — and even some cheers from the Minnesota fans who watched him do that 192 times in a Twins uniform.
“It’s quite an accomplishment,” said Tigers skipper Jim Leyland. “He did it against his old team. Not that you want him to do it against his old team, but I think that it was kind of a neat scenario when the Minnesota fans love him and got to see him do that. It probably wasn’t special for (Ron Gardenhire) and the guys today, but it was probably special for some of the fans.”
Even those in the other dugout couldn’t help but admire Hunter’s monumental home run.
“He’s killing me,” said Gardenhire, who managed Hunter from 2002-07. “Not exactly happy when he does it against you but I’m proud. He’s started in this organization and has had a heck of a career. Three hundred home runs is a lot and he still plays with the same enthusiasm as he had when he played here. So you always tip your cap to him because he’s one of the classiest guys in the game.”
The Twins took Hunter with the 20th overall pick in the 1993 draft. He went on to play 11 seasons in Minnesota, made his first All-Star game and won six Gold Glove awards. He also slugged 192 of his 300 home runs while playing for the Twins.
Ironically enough, Hunter’s first career homer came against his current team back in 1999. Hunter hit a solo home run to the opposite field off Detroit pitcher Brian Moehler on April 15, 1999 at Tiger Stadium for the first of 300 — and counting.
Fourteen years later, Hunter’s home run milestone came with the jerseys reversed.
“Just hitting my first home run in old Tiger Stadium against the Tigers with the Twins, then to hit 300 against the Twins in a Tigers uniform in Target Field, it’s special,” Hunter said. “Its kind of weird, but its special. I’m glad I got that monkey off my bat, man. I can go out there and just swing the bat and not go for home runs for a month and suffer.”
Hunter’s first-inning homer gave the Tigers an early 2-0 lead, but his second hit of the game may have been equally as important. After the Twins cut Detroit’s lead to 4-2 with two runs in the bottom of the eighth, Hunter hit a ground rule double to the gap in left-center that drove in a run to give the Tigers a three-run cushion at 5-2.
“Forget the home run, we got the big double late in the game. That was a huge hit,” Leyland said. “That changes the whole complexion of the game.”
At 37 years old, Hunter is not the same player he was when he wore a Twins uniform. He no longer roams center field; he’s spent the last few seasons in right field. The power has waned a bit, too: Sunday’s home run was just his third this season after hitting 16 a year ago. But he’s still hitting for average — his two hits Sunday raised his average to .292 on the year — and he’s now driven in 37 runs.
The same Twins fans who have fond memories of Hunter during his glory days in Minnesota couldn’t help but cheer on the man who now plays for the enemy.
For Hunter, the admiration he receives in the city he used to call home will never get old.
“No matter what I still feel the love, walking downtown and going to dinner and coming to the clubhouse I go visit everybody,” Hunter said. “The front office, players, coaching staff, I’ve known these guys my whole life, since I was 17 years old and this organization was taking care of me and helping me grow as a man and as a ballplayer. That’s something you’ll never forget. That’s stamped on my heart forever.”