DETROIT — Nine consecutive Gold Gloves and 18 years later, the two-time Silver Slugger, five-time All-Star Torii Hunter is still missing one thing. A World Series ring. Now that the Tigers have been swept out of contention for the 2014 World Series title, Hunter is considering the option to set aside the decked-out glove, colorful cleats, and uniform, and retire from the game of baseball.
Last month, Hunter sat in the Comerica Park dugout on a sunny day discussing his life, and the career he has spent with the Minnesota Twins, the Los Angeles Angels, and now the Detroit Tigers. Hunter's trademark smile and laughter broke through when he talked about his greatest moments, and even his worst disappointments.
For Hunter, every moment in his life has been a learning experience, a way to impact not only the game of baseball, but the world outside the walls of a baseball stadium. All the while he's pursued a goal that has remained unattainable for the last 18 years.
It's something he's thought long and hard about, and often, but he didn't expect to be out of the fight so early in the postseason. For that matter, no one on the team did. There isn't a decision to make now and Hunter said he'd love to return to Detroit, but he has some things to think about right now.
"Don't know what the future holds for me, whether I'm going to play again or get an opportunity to come back to Detroit, I just don't know," Hunter said. "Talk it over with my wife. Just tired, tired right now, man."
After the game Hunter's voice maintained a quiver of exhaustion, something expected after a long season and one cut short at that. One thing Hunter has not relinquished this season though, is his affection for the Tigers. They have become like a family to him and they've reciprocated the relationship. Hunter is loved not only by the team, but fans as well.
Hunter has a way of making an impact on everyone he meets and it has shown as he goes about his daily life. From his down-to-earth character on a daily basis to uplifting words to everyone on the team and fans alike, Hunter has become a leader among the Tigers.
For a player who's spent just two seasons with the team and seen a massive turnover in that short time, Hunter has remained steady, and that garners respect. His manager, Brad Ausmus, has been openly supportive of Hunter for some time and he recently spoke about Hunter's impact on the team and what he brings beyond on the field experience.
Hunter has had a tangible affect on the clubhouse and he always has a smart and witty phrase for the media, often bringing laughter and smiles even after a tough loss. But no one could prepare Hunter for such a short-lived postseason. Even Hunter wasn't expecting it and he admitted it surprised him in some ways.
True to his character though, Hunter gave credit where credit was due, offering the Orioles congratulations on a job well done to this point.
"These guys, we beat them during the season but in the postseason they were a totally different team," Hunter said. "They were angry, they came to fight. They got lefties over there throwing 98, it was a battle with those guys. They were the better team so good luck to those guys."
Whether Hunter decides to retire remains to be seen. There is still much to think about, and if Hunter stays around for another year, there's another part he'll have to contend with. If Hunter decides to stay in the game he'll have to see if the Tigers will resign him at 39-years-old or let him walk, which would leave Hunter in the position of finding a team for one year.
Right now though, the thought that the Tigers aren't continuing on to the ALCS or at least fighting for a shot at it, is still processing in Hunter's mind. For all the Gold Gloves and other awards Hunter has earned in his career, he's still missing the one thing he's been trying to achieve, and that's a hard thing to come to terms with after 18 years.
"It's tough. We got swept in the ALDS and I wasn't expecting that," Hunter said. "But baseball is a crazy game, man. It's harder than what you see on TV. On TV, me watching in the stands, the other day I was watching a football game and wondering why these guys are not catching the ball. It's easier to watch a game and say it's easy but it's tough."