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Healthy Hunter Returns

April 02, 2006|From the Associated Press

Torii Hunter learned long ago that worrying can bring about only bad things. So whenever a ball is hit to deep center field this year, the five-time Gold Glove winner will be chasing it as he always has -- at full speed.

After breaking his left ankle while trying to make a jumping catch against the wall at Fenway Park last July, Hunter missed the last two months of the season.

"If I have to break it again, I'd do it again. I'm going up on the wall every time," the Minnesota star said this spring. "It doesn't matter. That's my game. If I take away my game, then I'm not Torii. I'm going to go out and play hard like I always do -- no fear."

He's one of several big league standouts back on the diamond after spending significant time on the disabled list in 2005. Eric Gagne, Scott Rolen, Keith Foulke and Frank Thomas are some of the prominent others.

And here's a running theme among the hurt: These days, comebacks aren't as difficult.

"They're always coming up with new technology and surgeries," said Gagne, the Dodger closer. "If they had some of the stuff we have now when guys like Sandy Koufax were around, he'd still be pitching today."

Hunter was missed dearly in the lineup, the field and the clubhouse while the three-time AL Central champions faded to third place. As the longest-tenured position player on the Twins, Hunter, who turned 30 last July, has become the unquestioned leader.

"It was tough," he said. "You're sitting at home with a cast on your ankle. You just feel like you could have helped a team win when they were losing."

In the last guaranteed year of his contract, Hunter might not be putting on a Minnesota uniform for much longer. Thus the Twins aren't going to take him for granted, and they don't want him to take a cautious approach, either.

"When he's out in center field that's his domain, and he takes too much pride in it to play it any other way," Manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I don't look for Torii to do anything but what he's been doing."

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