— The Players' Tribune (@PlayersTribune) January 19, 2016
The two pieces are similar, with both thanking those who taught them about life and the game, but Hunter’s farewell is funny, no doubt a reflection of the player who always seemed to have a smile on his face.
It also has a great lede. Hunter describes his early days in Double-A ball as he and a teammate shared a rental car and apartment. Except in this case the rental car and apartment is a Geo Prizm.
“If you remember the Geo Prizm, it wasn’t a big car,” Hunter writes. “To call it a ‘compact’ car would be generous. There wasn’t close to enough room for my 6-foot-2 body to stretch out, but Armann (Brown) and I made it work.”
But life and baseball would get better.
On the day he got the call to The Show:
I broke down and cried tears of joy right there in the hallway. Just a few months earlier, I was waking up with car seat imprints on my cheek every morning and sneaking showers in the clubhouse, ready to quit baseball. Now, I was heading to The Show.
On playing for the Twins:
There was no one team more special than the 2002 Twins. I remember sitting in the clubhouse one day in Spring Training that year with David Ortiz, Corey Koskie, Doug Mientkiewicz and Jacque Jones, reading the newspaper. The Twins were coming off five-straight 90-plus loss seasons, and we were supposed to get contracted that year — ripped apart and all the players dispersed to other teams in a draft. The beat writers talked about us being contracted, calling us the ‘best Triple-A team in baseball.’
So we decided that if that was gonna be our last time playing with each other, we wanted to leave it all on the field. We went out that year with a chip on our shoulder, with an attitude. We wanted to destroy everyone. We won 94 games that year. We won the AL Central and beat the A’s in the ALDS. We did things nobody expected us to do.
On David Ortiz:
David was really messing with all of us a lot early in that 2002 season, always talking and joking and pranking. But (Corey) Koskie thought it was time for payback. So in the middle of a game, he went back into the clubhouse to David’s locker and lined his underwear with peanut butter. After the game, we were all sitting in the clubhouse, and David came out of the showers, went to his locker and started getting dressed. He was talking to us — he was always talking — as he was getting dressed, so when he slid his tightie-whities on, he didn’t even realize that there was a lot of peanut butter in there. We were all just sitting there, waiting for it to hit him…
On Ortiz’s eventual reaction:
He went off. He was screaming, cursing at us, and we were literally rolling on the clubhouse floor while he got undressed and got back in the shower to clean the peanut butter out of his butt. We were like, ‘What took you so long to notice?! Are you used to that?’
On the players he learned from:
Guys like Matt Lawton, LaTroy Hawkins, Eddie Guardado and Frankie Rodriguez, who took care of the 22-year-old kid who came up to the big leagues and didn’t know anybody. They showed me the ropes. Guys like Paul Molitor, who taught me what to look for in a pitcher to decipher what pitch was coming — different arm angles, grips, glove positions. Little things you can’t pick up on unless you’ve played and put sweat and dirt on those spikes.
On No. 34:
Guys like Kirby Puckett, whom I learned so much from just by watching the way he carried himself. How he’d walk into and out of the stadium, and he’d say hi to everybody. Security guards. Vendors, Media. Fans. He shook their hands and knew their names. He was a star, and he still took the time to do this, every day. He never took one day for granted and he always had a smile and positive energy to lift up his teammates and make them laugh.
On the original inspiration:
I watched Andre Dawson hit a home run one day. Then another the next. And another two days later. He hit 49 home runs that year, and I probably saw every one of them. Watching him, I wanted to be like him. I threw like him. I had the leg kick like him. I even had the Jheri curl like him.