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Known and well respected as perhaps the best defensive player in the major leagues today, Hunter has demonstrated outstanding athletic ability, having taken away home runs on an almost regular basis. ESPN coined Hunter as a "daily web gem ," referring to ESPN's nightly highlight reel. He has also won four Gold Glove awards for his defensive prowess.
Torii Hunter ("Torii" means the holy entrance to a Shinto temple) was selected as the Twins' first-round pick in 1993 out of high school and made his first appearance with the Twins in 1997 on August 22, as a pinch hitter in Baltimore. However, it was not until 1999 when Hunter began starting regularly, playing in 135 games for the Twins. He finished with only one error in 292 chances in the outfield.
After exploding in the beginning of April in 2000, Hunter was sent down to AAA near the end of May. However, Hunter caught fire in the month of June, capping it with a two-home run, seven-RBI game and being named the Twins' Minor League Player of the Week and Player of the Month. After a 16-game hitting streak, four instances of home runs in consecutive games and three grand slams, Hunter was recalled July 28. Hunter was named both Best Defensive Outfielder and Most Exciting Player in Pacific Coast League by Baseball America for 2000.
In 2001, Hunter led the club in at bats, home runs and outfield assists (with 14 - tied for second best in the league) and was second in RBIs and total bases, leading the Twins to their first winning season since 1992. Hunter was named Best Defensive Outfielder in the American League by Baseball America and won his first Rawlings Gold Glove Award in the same year.
In 2002, Hunter began to post near MVP numbers, a serious contender for the award for a good portion of the year. In the month of April, he went on a hot streak, going 39-105 (a .371 clip) with nine home runs and 20 RBIs, winning American League Player of the Month honors.
Hunter was selected by the fans to his first All-Star Game, in Milwaukee, becoming the first Twin since Kirby Puckett in 1995 to start in a game, in center field. One of the biggest moments came in the first inning, when, with two outs, Barry Bonds sent a what appeared to be a towering home run to right-center field when Hunter, who had built a reputation for his outfield thievery in the American League, showed off his talents - jumped and caught the ball in a stunning spectacle. (He was then embraced en route to the dugout by Bonds, who picked Hunter up in what appeared to be total amazement.)
Although there were no awards given at the All-Star game, the memorable catch was later awarded as the Best Defensive Play of the Year by the fans.
On July 18, after being hit by a pitch, Hunter threw back the baseball directly at Cleveland pitcher Danys Baez and was in turn suspended by the league for 3 games.
However, Hunter's numbers, along with an improved team, solid bullpen pitching, and a healthy resurgence in the latter half of the season powered the Twins to win the American League Central Division with ease. Highly underrated and not favored by any major publication to advance through the playoffs, let alone win any games against a very talented Oakland team, the Twins played their hardest.
In Game 1, the Twins overcame early errors, but came back and held on to win in Oakland. After dropping two, the Twins faced elimination, but powered their way in front of 50,000+ at the Metrodome to take Game 4 and tie the series. Game 5, Twins' pitcher Brad Radke pitched masterfully, along with timely hitting despite the Twins' inability to hit of the left-handed pitching, particularly thanks to A.J. Pierzynski's home run in the top of the ninth. Oakland came back with 3 runs, but even that turned out not to be enough, as the Twins went on to win 5-4 and advance to the ALCS. The Anaheim Angels would go on to beat the Twins 4-1 en route to their first World Series Championship.
Despite losing in the ALCS, it was still a very good year for the ballclub, and by far the best year for Torii Hunter. He led the club in home runs, RBIs, and stolen bases, and was tied for the lead in games and doubles. Hunter won the team's Calvin R. Griffith Award as Most Valuable Twin for 2002. He ended up a respectable sixth in the MVP voting, and also earned his second Gold Glove in center field. Torii Hunter was additionally named baseball's Best Defensive Player Award for 2002, as voted by the fans.
Hunter started off the 2003 season very slow as the Twins slumped as a whole. Their bats soon woke up in the month of May, as Hunter improved his batting average by more than 50 points.
The future for Torii Hunter is indeed very bright. At 27, Hunter is only beginning to enter his prime, and can only improve as a player. He is still known as the best defensive outfielder, if not the best outfielder alone in the league. After signing a 4-year, $32 million contract, rest assured good things are yet to come.
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