It was 2018, and Torii Hunter was sitting in his temporary office at Nationals Stadium when he made a statement that caught his audience off guard.
"I can do this," Hunter said. "I could manage in the major leagues."
Hunter had just managed the U.S. team in the All-Star Futures Game, a team that included future major leaguers like Bo Bichette, Hunter Greene, Mitch Keller, Pete Alonso and Alex Kirilloff. Former Twins teammates LaTroy Hawkins and Matthew LeCroy were on the coaching staff.
Hunter realized, through the experience, that he spent the back half of his playing career molding, mentoring and managing teammates. And he was good at it. He played for the Twins, Angels and Tigers during a 19-year career, and he became the spiritual leader on all of them.
That moment crossed my mind recently when it was learned that the Angels brought in Hunter a few weeks ago to interview for their managerial opening. The news was still stunning. Hunter, who has been a special projects coach for the Twins since his playing days ended, is a successful investor and businessman. He owns three barbecue restaurants — called the Tender Smokehouse — in the Dallas Fort Worth area, and a fourth is on the way. He's a grandfather, too.
So, Torii, why complicate your life?
"I like to be uncomfortable, and I like the challenges of creating businesses and things like that," Hunter said from his home in Prosper, Texas. "But the one thing I do know is that I love baseball. When I had an opportunity with the Angels, a team that I know, I thought about it, prayed about it and called them back and said, 'Yeah, I'd be interested.'"
Hunter interviewed earlier this month, but the Angels went with Ron Washington, another former Twin. Hunter wasn't interested in a coaching role. But Torii the manager would have been wildly entertaining because Hunter can be real, brutally honest, hilarious and thought-provoking. He planned on bringing Hawkins, LeCroy and Eddie Guardado to his coaching staff. That would have been a reporter's dream, because one of those guys would have said something either enlightening or worthy of a story. Every. Single. Day.
"The bulldogs I want and the mindsets I want," Hunter said of the group. "I wanted people around me I could trust and shoot me straight and give me great advice."
If anything, this group would have taught players how to pull off pranks as well as hit a 100 mph fastball. LeCroy once ate a live cockroach in the Kansas City clubhouse after teammates raised several hundred dollars as an enticement. That's a great icebreaker.
The band would have been back together, and it would have been quite a reunion.
Hurry up on this one
Minnesota United CEO Shari Ballard outlined three qualities she sought when looking for a new sporting director: Someone who had some experience, had leadership skills and who was an up-and-comer.
The up-and-comer part sticks out to me, because Minnesota United made it clear that it didn't want a retread or someone with name recognition. Ballard found her man in Khaled El-Ahmad, whose life's work in the game has built him to lead a soccer department.
Well done. Now get him here.
Theoretically El-Ahmad can't assume his new role until the season ends for his current team, Barnsley, at the end of April. MLS camps open in January. A head coach and other positions need to be filled. If he can't arrive until early next year, El-Ahmad's first season with the Loons will be Year Zero. The Loons need to expedite this transaction.
A bad look
I was on hand at Williams Arena on Thursday when the Gophers men's basketball team blew a 20-point lead and lost to Missouri. Not a good look for a team trying to validate its improvement. A win over the Tigers would have been a great start.
While raising the bar for the Gophers this season in my column Thursday, I also believe this is Johnson's most talented team. Dawson Garcia is a quality Big Ten player, and Pharrel Payne is rounding into a rugged frontliner. This team can play faster than Johnson's previous two teams. Turnovers landed Elijah Hawkins on the bench late in Thursday's game, but he's an upgrade at point guard. Johnson used nine players in the first half, showing his confidence in the depth he has.
The Gophers will not be 9-22 like last season. How much better will be determined by how they learn from Thursday's debacle.
And two predictions
- This is not the same Broncos team that gave up 70 points earlier in the season to Miami. This also isn't the same defense with which the Vikings began the season. Look for the Vikings to slug their way to a 26-17 win and extend their winning streak.
- Former Hopkins star Paige Bueckers will score 23 points Sunday for UConn in a victory over the Gophers in a highly anticipated game at Williams area. I'm not going to pile on and predict the final score.