How Torii Hunter helped Tigers pitch to Justin Upton
Al Avila flew out to Arizona last Friday on what he called a recruiting visit to talk with Justin Upton about joining the Tigers. Brad Ausmus got the call from his boss and hopped on the next flight out.
Torii Hunter was at home in Texas, enjoying his first offseason as a retired ballplayer. He hasn’t been part of the Tigers organization in over a year. Yet for the Tigers’ recruiting pitch, he might have provided one more assist, arguably out of left field.
Upton and Hunter have the same agent, Larry Reynolds, who played a bigger role in getting Upton to Detroit than he did in getting Hunter to Detroit. Hunter knew he wanted to come to Detroit well before he signed after the 2012 season, seeing what he felt was his last, best chance at a World Series. Upton knew somewhat about Detroit, but until now has spent his entire career in the National League. He was already well along in talks with the Tigers when he got a call from Hunter, but he was still learning about his new home.
“Torii gave me a call two or three nights ago,” Upton said at Wednesday’s introductory press conference. “I think it was Monday night. He had nothing but great things to say. I think his first comments were that, being a Minnesota Twin for years, he hated Detroit, he hated everybody here and every time he came here, he just wanted to win every game. But he said when he played here, it was one of the best experiences he ever had.
“He said the team itself, it’s a winning atmosphere. They love their players. The fans love their players. He said if you go out and you play the game the right way and smile every day, the people of Detroit will respect you and love having you here. So that’s my plan, to go out and give the city what I have, bring what I can to the table and enjoy my time here. I’m excited to see what Detroit has to offer.”
Hunter, who played two seasons here, said in a text message that he has known Upton since he was a teenager.
“I just told him my experiences here,” Hunter said. “He’s a good guy.”
His message for Upton, he said, was pretty simple.
“Told him to just be yourself and don’t hide who you are,” Hunter said. “Detroit fans can spot a fake a mile away. Stay genuine.”