Today's guest columnist is another one most of you will recognize--it's one half of the Nick and Nick duo. They ran a great series of posts running up to the season taking a look at each position on our Twinkie roster, running through stengths and weaknesses as well as offering some predictions at each position.
Nick and Nick have been part of the blogosphere for ages, and offer up some of the best opinions and analysis without managing to sound like they're repeating what's be regurgitated in the news. If you haven't already, add them to your list of places to visit on a daily basis.
Nick has chosen to take on the subject of popular Minnesota center fielders over the past 20 years. This list, as you all know, is confined to two people.
CARRYING ON THE LEGACY
When I attended the March 12 memorial to Kirby Puckett at the Metrodome, I distinctly remember looking at one of the pictures of Kirby displayed onthe field and momentarily mistaking it for a picture of Torii Hunter. It was kind of funny really, because when I got down to thinking about it, I came to the realization that Hunter and Puckett really aren't all that different as ball-players. Regardless of what you might think of Puckett's life after baseball, it's undeniable that he played the game the way it should be played and was an absolute joy to watch. I think that's a legacy that Hunter is carrying on in center field to this day for the Twins.
Kirby once said of Hunter, "Torii reminds me of myself. He can play defense like crazy." That's not the only similarity in their games. When I watch Hunter play, he reminds of Puckett in several different ways. The dazzling catches in center field, sure, but also the free-swinging tendencies, the clutch home runs, the hustle, and that effervescent smile.
It's not just by coincidence. After Puckett's death, Hunter spoke of how much Kirby has influenced his career. "I pattern my game after him. Everything I do is after Kirby Puckett," Hunter said. "The way I run. The way I hit. The way I flip my bat on a base hit or a hit back to the pitcher. Everything is off him."
Puckett was a big game player, evidenced by his strong performances in both of the Twins' championship post-season runs. Though we may not notice it as much since he hasn't carried the team to a World Series, Hunter has likewise gone above and beyond in the playoffs. In the four post-season series in which he has played (a total of 18 games), Hunter has hit .303 and posted an .869 OPS. His go-ahead home run in the 12th inning of Game 2 of the 2004 ALDS in Yankee Stadium would likely have gone down in Minnesota playoff lore had the Twins not blown the game in the bottom half of the inning.
Of course, Hunter is not nearly the offensive force Puckett was. He will probably never hit .300 and he will never post a .900+ OPS. Hunter also doesn't have to deal with the physical disadvantages Kirby did. Still, both players sport a similar approach at the plate as well as in the field.
Puckett will be missed, but let's not take for granted the fact that we have the chance to watch a guy who plays the game in a very similar fashion right now. This might be the last chance we'll have to see it, because while Puckett spent his entire 12-year career with the Twins, Hunter could easily be gone after this season.