03/31/08 12:45 AM ET
Hunter has emotional return
Center fielder discusses being back at the Metrodome
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
That means he won't see his old locker is now occupied by Cuddyer, who personally requested the spot. Hunter gave that move his stamp of approval."He's definitely the guy to have it," Hunter said. "He's a leader, a vocal guy and a spokesman. He's probably going to be the face of that franchise, because he speaks. So I think he's the guy for it. He's been around, he knows the organization in and out. He was drafted by these guys in 1997 ... he was born and bred as a Twin." It was a role that Hunter himself had occupied for nearly the past decade, that of a born-and-bred Twin. So trying to shake it now has been, at times, difficult. Hunter admitted Sunday that he's caught himself a few times using "we" in reference to the Twins. It's a habit that he hopes to break "by next year." "Fifteen years with one organization -- that's my family," Hunter said. "But I've got to try to break that habit. It's something I'm going to try to be working on." Time to say goodbye The Twins' three-year, $45 million offer fell well below the deal he signed with the Angels, and at least three other teams proposed five-year contracts to him, but Hunter said the decision to leave Minnesota was still a difficult one. It meant leaving the only organization he had ever known and saying goodbye to some of the people he was closest with, including manager Ron Gardenhire. The two first met when Hunter joined the organization at age 17, and they developed an even stronger bond once Gardenhire became the Twins' manager in 2002. There will be hugs and some catching up, but both Hunter and Gardenhire agreed that once both teams step on the field, it's game-face time for all. "I love him dearly," Gardenhire said. "And I hope he goes 0-for-16." Welcome back Although Hunter went through a range of emotions when he arrived in Minnesota on Sunday, he's set to experience more of a roller coaster over the next few days. The Twins will honor him with a video tribute before Monday's opener and he'll be presented his seventh consecutive Gold Gove Award on Tuesday. And of course, the most emotional of all moments for Hunter and Twins fans will likely come when he comes up for his first at-bat on Monday. All spring long, the Twins' players have discussed how they feel the crowd will react to seeing Hunter playing for the other team, and how they will, too. "It will be weird to us, and fans, to see him in that uniform. It won't look right," Morneau said. "But it will be fun to see him -- well, just as long as he doesn't rob me of any home runs." For Hunter, the moment of truly being welcomed home will come when he is greeted by the fans. His interaction with them will perhaps be his lasting legacy in Minnesota, as he was a longtime fan favorite due to his gregarious personality and down-to-earth appeal. It's why Hunter is both looking forward to the moment the fans greet him, yet still a tad apprehensive, hoping that it will be a gracious reception. "I don't know what to expect," Hunter said. "I guess I'm expecting a warm welcome -- I hope. It will be good to be seeing some of the familiar faces in the stands. Waldo, my guy in center field with the hard hat. He was a big fan. He was there every day, every game in the outfield in center field. "It's going to be nice to see him again. And just getting a chance to talk to some of the fans. That's going to be something that I'll really miss."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.