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Updated: August 20th, 2010 6:23pm
Notebook: Torii Hunter 'in shock' after first glimpse of Target Field

Notebook: Torii Hunter 'in shock' after first glimpse of Target Field

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- One day after saying goodbye -- or is it, 'don't let the door hit you' -- to A.J. Pierzynski, the Minnesota Twins welcomed another familiar face to the ballpark.

Former Twins center fielder and current Angels right fielder Torii Hunter stepped foot in Target Field for the first time on Friday, and it surpassed his wildest expectations.

"Wow, this is definitely a dream for me," Hunter said. "They dropped me off in the players' parking lot, and I was walking up, and I was in shock. I could not believe how beautiful this stadium was on the outside. Then I walked on the inside, walked through the home-side clubhouse and I was in tears. This is like night and day compared to when we were playing. This is a different era, man."

Hunter later joked, "It almost brought tears to my eyes, but not close. I'm a man."

Hunter, who signed a five-year, $90 million contract with the Angels after the 2007 season, had his first major-league plate appearance with the Twins in 1997 as a 21-year-old. He became a full-time player in 1999 and suffered through two brutal seasons before the Twins finally turned things around in 2001.

"This is something that we all dreamed about -- me, (Corey) Koskie, Jacque (Jones), Doug Mientkiewicz," Hunter said. "We were fighting for it. We wanted a new stadium so bad, it was unbelievable. Now you see the end result -- us just playing well, trying not to be contracted.

"I thought maybe they would cut corners, do everything. And I promise you, fans that haven't been inside the stadium or in the clubhouse, that's state of the art. Gardy's office is like Bill Gates' office.

"They've got a video room now, nice batting cages not made out of fishnet. A real weight room, and not the pieces that we brought to bring in. I'm telling you. We bought pieces and brought them in."

When Hunter left, the Twins knew they were getting a new stadium, but they were still stuck with a payroll that hovered between $60-70 million, and Hunter's price tag was simply deemed too high.

We'll never know if Hunter would have stayed in Minnesota if given the current financial circumstances, but one thing is certain -- his respect for the Twins organization has never been more evident.

"This is totally different," Hunter said. "I can't even explain to people how professional and classy this stadium -- what this organization looks like right now. They look great. You walk into the stadium and you're like, 'damn, Twins.'"

NOTES

* About two weeks ago, Hunter agreed to move from center field to right field for the first time in his career, making room for 23-year-old speedster Peter Bourjos.

Hunter doesn't particularly like playing right field -- and he'll be forced to deal with three different surfaces and a giant overhang at Target Field -- but he agreed to the move for the greater good of the team.

"It's been boring," Hunter said. "I don't run -- ball's hit off the wall, I just go get it and throw it in. It's just boring. In center field you've got all power. You can run balls down, you're still a kid at heart. You just run for days and then call everybody off around you.

Hunter said the move had nothing to do with him "losing his legs," and that the Angels didn't force him to switch positions.

"It's just, I wanted my legs," Hunter said. "I think I got beat up in July.

"I feel like the team's better because we brought Peter Bourjos up. The guy can fly. He can cover real estate. You put me out there in right and it makes our outfield defense better. I think our outfield defense was the slowest in the league. Maybe the worst in the league."

Ultimate Zone Rating seems to back Hunter's claim, ranking the Angels outfield as the sixth-worst ranging unit in baseball -- just ahead of the Twins.

Hunter's mentor as a young player, Kirby Puckett, also made a transition to right field in 1993, allowing Shane Mack to take over center field.

"I've thought about all of that," Hunter said. "Andre Dawson was one of my favorite players, Kirby was one of my favorite players. I saw both of those guys play center field, and they both ended up in right. Andre Dawson was a better player than he was in center field... I feel like I'm a better hitter -- not because I'm in right -- I'm a better hitter now than I was in Minnesota. But it's only going to make me better if I have stronger legs and use my legs more. I didn't have any legs, man. I was done in July. I couldn't feel my legs."

* Justin Morneau continued to take early batting practice on the field during the Chicago series, and he has worked in the cage over the past two days, but still no update on when he might take the next step (i.e. rehab assignment).

* Nick Punto re-aggravated his left hamstring on Thursday night and was placed on the 15-day disabled list Friday. The Twins recalled infielder Matt Tolbert from Class-AAA Rochester.

Punto underwent an MRI at 3:00 p.m. Friday to check for further damage, but results were not immediately available.

* Manager Ron Gardenhire was named "Best Manager" in the American League by the staff at Baseball America in their "Best Tools" article from Thursday.

"You're a good manager when your team does well," Gardenhire said. "When the players get out there and play, and make plays, and hit, and drive in runs, and they pitch, you're a good manager when that happens. They make you look good.

"When people say those things, it's an honor, sure. but it's also a tribute to my whole coaching staff and the way this organization has built the team."

Other Twins to make American League lists were Joe Mauer (best defensive catcher, second-best hitter, and second-best strike-zone judgement), Justin Morneau (third-most power), Carl Pavano (second-best control) and Orlando Hudson (third-best defensive second baseman).

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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