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He says Angels still can achieve greatness

August 15, 2012|T.J. SIMERS
  • Angels outfielders Torii Hunter, left, and Mike Trout laugh as they come off the field between innings during Tuesday's 9-6 win over the Cleveland Indians.
Angels outfielders Torii Hunter, left, and Mike Trout laugh as they come… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )

I knew the Angels were in trouble when I arrived in the press box to find the front office had already dismantled the extra seats used for media covering the playoffs.

Boy, Angry Arte is really mad.

When your own front office eliminates you in August, good luck playing inspired baseball.

I guess all that remains to be seen is who Angry Arte fires next. Manager Mike Scioscia was talking Tuesday about how the starting pitching has let the team down, so good luck to pitching coach Mike Butcher.

For the third straight year the Angels lead the league in underachievement, possibly the best collection of talent in baseball falling collectively flat once again.

After a closed-door meeting the other day, Scioscia and the Angels emerged talking about wild-card possibilities. How the mighty have become so pathetic.

Not so fast, chides the clubhouse voice of the Angels, Torii Hunter, when I ask about the underachievers now being described as dead meat.

"All we can do is prove you wrong," says Hunter, inching forward in his clubhouse seat as if almost on the attack. "But let me tell you, we're not dead. We're going to make the playoffs and we're going to win."

Everyone loves a dreamer and the same can be pretty much said about Hunter. He's been what every fan should want in one of their baseball players, an ambassador, solid performer and class act.

But he's a goner now, a free agent at the end of season who more than likely will not be brought back given the young talent available to play in the outfield.

Hunter understands, and pretty much says the same thing.

"If it comes to the Angels making a business decision, it will be tough for me to be here next year," Hunter concedes. "But if we win the World Series, anything is possible and I still think we can win the World Series.

"I don't want to go anywhere. There is a commitment to winning here and I want to retire as an Angel. But I'm not ready to retire.

"I know there will be talk about money when it comes time, but please, talk to me. I've made my money. We have great things we can do here and I want to be a part of it."

Nice speech, but how about beating Cleveland two out of three?

"We're loaded with talent right, and we are underachieving," he admits. "I understand how the fans feel; we're not doing it. And there's not much energy lately. But it's up to us to give the fans something to get really pumped up.

"It's depressing at times, but I promise you we're going to be in the playoffs. So it's up to me to get it started, keep it loose and get us going. And it's going to start tonight; just watch the game and you will see."

Two hours later, Mike Trout leads off with a double, so it's put-up time for the team leader, and Hunter drills a single up the middle to give the Angels a 1-0 lead.

His teammates follow his example, batting around and taking a 4-0 first-inning lead. Maybe there's some kick left in the dead meat after all.

"I'm no cheerleader; I'm a player," Hunter says by way of clarification. "My dad still plays basketball and still dunks and he's 65. I have great genes; don't look at my age [37], look at me. Study my game and see what I can still do.

"Listen, I know anything is possible and that's what I'm telling these guys right now. I'm not going to panic because I've been there. We can do it.

"When I was in Minnesota in 2006, we were 81/2 games back around Aug. 16 or 17 and won the division on the last day," he says, and it's our little secret that the Twins were then swept in the playoffs. "We were also up by 10 earlier in my career in September and finished second."

It would be difficult to find a more cooperative athlete than Hunter in any locker room or clubhouse. It's hard to imagine a team being down with someone so upbeat in its dugout. Moving into the on-deck circle Tuesday night, he salutes a youngster who is waving to him, while also saying something to Trout, who is headed to the plate.

He's having fun, the Angels won, and there hasn't been much of any of that happening around here lately.

Now if he can make good on his promise to get the Angels into the playoffs and put a smile on Angry Arte's face, then maybe both Hunter and Butcher have a shot at returning.

WHAT A day. Rather than the usual email representing the angry world in which we live, I received a flood of wonderful, heartfelt feelings from so many who have also lost someone dear in their lives.

I will find the time to answer them all, but how much better does it get than this: "Both of my parents are still living, but I don't take the time to remember what a blessing that truly is. I'm going to call them today to tell them I love them and keep working to be a better father to my two daughters myself."

Another great guy who got away and who won't be marrying my daughter.


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