Torii Hunter : Playing Happy

     Torii Hunter won’t forget the first major league baseball game he saw in person: August 22, 1997, Minnesota Twins vs. Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland.

He played in it.

     Near the end of the game, his Twins trailing, Hunter got the call to pinch run for All-Star catcher Terry Steinbach. Hunter, then a 21-year-old from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, who had never come closer to the big leagues than a television broadcast before getting called up for the game, ran nervously across the infield. “I’m supposed to run for you,” the rookie said to 35-year-old Steinbach.

     Steinbach didn’t budge. “No, you’re not.” Hunter stood in front of Steinbach and 50,000 Oriole fans like a lost child. Have I made a mistake? What do I do now?

     Steinbach smiled and surrendered his spot. “Just kidding. Have fun.”

A dream come true
     Some told Hunter that he might catch on as a backup outfielder, yet he’s developed into one of the game’s top players. He’s 28-year-old man playing with the wide-eyed joy and wonder of a child. “It’s a dream come true,” he says.

     In the age of disillusionment with professional sports, and at a time when labor disputes, market inequities and bloated egos get in the way of America’s national pastime, the Twins’ Torii Hunter revives the notion that baseball exists to make boyhood dreams come alive.

     Dare to approach baseball megastar Barry Bonds in a restaurant, and he’s likely to bite off your head. Spot Hunter eating dinner with his family at local Twin Cities restaurant, and the young star will take it as a kind gesture. One man, a loyal Twins fan for 30 seasons, approached Hunter and told him he was proud of him. Hunter beamed in front of his wife and their two children.


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