Angels outfielder Torii Hunter hits a grand slam to defeat the Cleveland… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
PROSPER, Texas -- As Torii Hunter reflected on his five seasons with the Angels — a span in which he hit .286 with 105 homers and 432 runs batted in — two events, an individual accomplishment and a team achievement, stood out.
The first came at the end of his first week as an Angel, on April 7, 2008, when Hunter hit a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning and followed Francisco Rodriguez's blown save in the top of the ninth with a walk-off grand slam against the Cleveland Indians.
Hunter circled the bases, leaped into a pile of humanity and was pummeled by his new teammates. Then, he made his first curtain call in Angel Stadium.
"That was the first game I made an impact, the first time the fans got to know me," Hunter, 37, said during a recent interview at his home in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. "When I turned around third and all my teammates were waiting for me, I jumped up and I was like, 'All right, this is home.'"
The second was on Sept. 28, 2009, when the Angels, six months after 22-year-old pitcher Nick Adenhart was killed in an automobile accident, clinched the American League West with a win over Texas at home.
As part of their celebration, the Angels jogged en masse to the center-field wall, where a picture of Adenhart pitching had been affixed since the tragic crash. Players bowed their heads, tapped Adenhart's face, and some poured beer over his head.
"That's something I'll never forget," Hunter said. "We struggled for a few weeks after Nick died — we fought, we had arguments — but it eventually brought us closer together. As a team, we bonded. Nick was a good dude, good kid."
The Angels won 100 games in 2008, Hunter's first year in Anaheim after signing a five-year, $90-million deal, and after acquiring slugger Mark Teixeira from Atlanta that July, they looked like World Series contenders.
"That was an awesome squad," Hunter said, "the best team I've ever been a part of."
Until the playoffs. The Angels lost to Boston in a division series marred by Erick Aybar's failed suicide-squeeze attempt, the pivotal play in the Red Sox's series-clinching Game 4 victory and a call that Manager Mike Scioscia may never live down.
The Angels won their third straight AL West title in 2009 and vanquished their longtime October nemesis, sweeping the Red Sox in the division series before losing to the New York Yankees in a six-game AL championship series.
But the next three Octobers were dark for the Angels, and when Hunter signed a two-year, $26-million deal with Detroit in November, he left a trail of unfinished business.
"I really wanted to win a championship there and go to the playoffs more than two times, so in that respect I failed," said Hunter, a right fielder who hit .313 with 16 homers and 92 RBIs last season. "That's what I regret, that we didn't win a championship with those guys."
Hunter, a 14-year veteran, has never played in a World Series, and he feels his career won't be complete without a championship. He's convinced the defending AL-champion Tigers will give him the best shot to win a title.
But even if he doesn't win a ring, Hunter's story — his rise from a poor family, which included a drug-addicted and mostly absent father, in Pine Bluff, Ark., to become a major leaguer who would make $150 million in his career — has been remarkable.
"It's definitely a blessing, a dream come true," Hunter said. "I had a daddy on drugs, we didn't always have food, the lights were cut off. … We didn't have much, but we had love and a roof over our heads. I tell that to all the kids who are going through the same thing, that you can do it. You just have to believe you can.
"A lot of kids are broken, and it's hard for them to believe in anything. But you have to have an imaginative mind and tell yourself, 'Hey, I can do whatever I want to.' I tell kids to have dreams, have goals, and believe in them because if you have any doubt, worry or fear, it will choke the life out of your dreams and goals."