|Friday, January 17
Updated: March 13, 4:46 PM ET
Hunter finished sixth in AL MVP voting this past season
"Yesterday it happened so fast, I was like, 'We're going to get this deal done,''' Hunter said. "They came to where I felt it was fair for both sides. I commend them for getting there. Thank you!''
Hunter, 27, batted .289 with 29 homers, 94 RBI and 23 stolen bases in 2002. He finished sixth in the AL Most Valuable Player voting and won his second Gold Glove in leading the small-market Twins to the AL championship series.
"Center fielders that hit for power are hard to come by,'' general manager Terry Ryan said. "He is one that can do that.''
Ryan said they signed Hunter to a long-term deal believing he can do much more than he did last season. If Ryan is right, the team would have had to pay Hunter much more in a series of one-year deals.
"He had a nice year, but he's certainly capable of doing better,'' Ryan said. "He had a fabulous first half, then in the second half, things started to get a little dicey. ... That happens.''
Earlier this month, the Twins had said there was no rush to get a deal done. Although Hunter was eligible for arbitration this season, he wasn't eligible for free agency until after the 2005 season.
But Ryan said the team intended to sign Hunter to a long-term deal before spring training.
Hunter, who made one of the memorable plays last year when he robbed Barry Bonds of a home run in the All Star game at Milwaukee's Miller Park, said the contract was a dream come true.
"What it's about is helping my family out,'' Hunter said. "At the same time, to be at home with the Minnesota Twins, the team I love, you can't ask for much more.''
His first big purchase will be a house for his mother, Hunter said.
"My mom's in a two-bedroom apartment in the 'hood,'' Hunter said. "My brothers, we slept with the rats and the roaches. We all came up together. ... That's what I came here to do: Work hard, play this game hard so I can be able to help my family.''
In recent years, owner Carl Pohlad has been criticized for not signing high-profile free agents, but he has spent money to keep the players the Twins already have. Last year he signed starter Joe Mays to a $20 million, four-year contract, and he gave ace Brad Radke a $36 million, four-year extension in 2000.
"I can't never say anything bad about Carl Pohlad,'' Hunter joked.
It was a long road to the top from being the kid from Pine Bluff, Ark., selected by the Twins on the first round of the 1993 amateur draft. He struggled with consistency and confidence through the minor leagues. And just as he was starting to establish himself in the big leagues, the Twins were nearly contracted.
"It's a dream come true,'' Hunter said. "Growing up, every kid sees Michael Jordan or for me, it was Andre Dawson, and you're like, 'Man I want to be like that one day.'
"Now you have kids that say, 'I wanna be Torii Hunter one day.' Man, I love that.''