DETROIT — Torii Hunter was walking through the Detroit clubhouse last weekend, carrying a mesh backpack with some contraptions that turned heads.
“This is how I stay on the field,” Hunter said to inquiring teammates.
The 37-year-old Hunter was toting a rolling pin with skateboard-like wheels and some small balls. Later, he put a brick-shaped block between one of the balls and his left calf.
“Two or three years ago, I got these from a chiropractor,” he recalled. “I started using these gadgets to hit my pressure points and loosen my muscles and to keep me stretched out. I use them every day to help me perform.”
So far, so good.
The four-time All-Star and six-time Gold Glove winner has played in each of the Tigers’ six games this season. He has been the dependable player they were hoping for at the plate and in the field when they signed him to a $26 million, two-year deal in November.
He is leading Detroit’s everyday players with a .393 batting average with more than one hit in five of six games. He hasn’t made an error in right field and has one assist, throwing out a runner at home to help the Tigers win a weekend series against the New York Yankees.
“He’s a great addition for the Tigers,” Yankees ace CC Sabathia said. “He’s going to help their lineup, especially in the No. 2 hole.”
Hunter has hit between third and sixth for much of his career, which began in 1998 with the Minnesota Twins, until primarily hitting second last season, his fifth and final year with the Angels. The second spot worked out well for him last year as he hit a career-best .313 with 16 home runs and 92 RBI, his highest total since 2007.
“Hitting fourth, fifth and sixth for most of my career, I had to hit for power,” he said. “In the two hole, you have to change your game – kill self and worry about the team. For example, if Austin Jackson is on first, I might have to take a strike so he can steal or I might have to sacrifice to get him over for Miguel Cabrera or Prince Fielder to hit him in. Austin is the table-setter and those guys (Cabrera and Fielder) are going to eat.”
Hunter should get a chance to feast on some fastballs over the plate because pitchers are going to want to get him out, hoping he’s not on base for Cabrera and Fielder to bring home.
He is approaching 2,000 hits and 300 homers, and might hit another milestone – 200 stolen bases – before his run in the Motor City ends.
Hunter has 1,997 career hits, 297 home runs and 186 stolen bases, giving him a chance to join the 17 players, including two active, Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran, to reach each of those benchmarks in each category.
He said it’ll be an honor to join the 2,000-hit club with 13 other players still in the game.
“You gotta stay healthy to get 2,000 hits and come ready to play every day,” Hunter said. “For me to be around this long and get 2,000 hits, I’m very thankful.”
The Tigers have already had plenty of reasons to give thanks already that Hunter is on their team at the plate, on the base paths and in right field.
Detroit manager Jim Leyland said Hunter is going to make “a lot of stuff look routine” on a daily basis.
“We knew what kind of player we were getting and certainly we’re very happy with what we got,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “This guy really has that extra sixth sense of how the game is supposed to be played with the little things he does.”
Hunter, though, chose to sign with Detroit as a free agent because he wants to accomplish something big.
He has played in nearly 2,000 games, including six postseasons, without being in a World Series. If Hunter and his teammates stay healthy, he likes their chances of playing for a championship.
Detroit has won two AL Central titles in a row and went to the World Series last year for the second time in seven years.
“If all cylinders click, this team has a good chance to win the division and get back to the World Series,” Hunter said. “That’s where I’ve wanted to get my whole career and that’s why I chose to come here.”