There is a depth to Torii Hunter that has always made him special. Defined by the circumstances of his youth, the seriousness of his commitment, the elegance of his game, and the joy of his daily experience, he will retire one day having taken all he could from baseball.
He will have given back more – to the young men who've shared his clubhouses, to the people who lean over the rails in big-league ballparks, to the reporters who care less about the whats than the whys and hows.
Hunter gives a damn. He plays an honest sport, a diverse sport, a hard sport, whether the sport wanted to come along or not.
Not so long ago, we stood together at his locker in Anaheim. Among his final batting practices as an Angel beckoned. We were the last two in the clubhouse. We talked about growing older, raising boys of our own, what we were teaching them. And he talked about approaching the end of a career he called a blessing.
"No matter when that day comes when I finish the race, I promise you I'm going to be so thankful and grateful to play this game," he said. "I'll be happy to have gotten so many years in the big leagues, that my grandkids will be able to say their granddad played in the major leagues and was no slouch. And that he finished the race, you know?"
Hunter, at 37, agreed to a two-year contract worth $26 million Wednesday with the Detroit Tigers. From wherever he was, he returned a text message about the Tigers and his new deal with an exclamation: "Yes sir!" On his Twitter account, his profile summary read, "Found a job! Headed to Motown to win that ring!"
So the race continues for Torii Hunter, as he knew it would. He'd intended on reaching the World Series with the Angels, once with Chone Figgins at the top and Vladimir Guerrero in the middle, and then with Mike Trout at the top and Albert Pujols in the middle.
He'll try again in Detroit, with Austin Jackson in front of him, and Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and, presumably, Victor Martinez behind him. He'll play right field, once being held for Brennan Boesch. And he'll answer to Jim Leyland, after spending his formative years with Tom Kelly and most of his 30s with Mike Scioscia.
Like Hunter, the Tigers almost certainly feel they've left something undone. Two Octobers ago, they lost to Texas in the American League Championship Series. Two weeks ago, San Francisco swept them in the World Series.
Yeah, Hunter will help the Tigers. His glove and legs still play fresh. His bat still has hits in it. And, yeah, after being dismissed by the Angels, he got his security and got his money.
The measure of Hunter, however, is in the "dawg" – his word for gamer – in him, and in his refusal to let the game off easy. Before it leaves him, he'll get his. And then he'll leave it better than he found it. That's part of the race, too.
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