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Torii Hunter joins the Tigers: 'I've come to the best team'

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The first days of spring training can be a little difficult.

Kevin Youkilis in pinstripes. Josh Hamilton in Angels red rather than Rangers red. Zack Greinke in that gray Dodgers cap (whatever happened to Dodger blue?).

Somehow, Torii Hunter in a Tiger uniform didn't seem jarring. He spent 11 seasons with the Twins and the last five with the Angels, but somehow the transition to the Tigers just seemed natural.

Maybe that's because of who he is. Maybe that's because of how it happened.

"I knew during the season I was coming here," Hunter said Thursday.

He chose the Tigers, even more than most free agents choose their new team. When Hunter realized the Angels didn't intend to keep him, he chose the Tigers because they could give him everything he wanted, and signed with them without visiting any other team.

The biggest thing he wanted: a chance to win it all.

Hunter isn't the first player to say that his goal in free agency was getting to a team where he could finally win a World Series. But no one can doubt he followed through on it.

He joins a Tiger team that was in the World Series last year and in the AL Championship Series the year before. He's in a lineup where he'll hit behind Austin Jackson and in front of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez.

"I've come to the best team," he said.

Angels fans might not like the sound of that, but Hunter really wasn't trying to stir them up. Asked whether the lineup he joined is better than the one he left, he avoided answering the question. He's said before that he was a little disappointed with the way his stay with the Angels ended, but on this day, there were no negative words directed west.

"You're talking Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, that's a great lineup," Hunter said. "That's a great team."

But as Hunter sat and joked and reminisced about old times in the AL Central with Justin Verlander and Victor Martinez, he didn't look or sound like an ex-Angel. He was a Tiger.

Not even a new Tiger. Just a Tiger.

"You look at our lineup, it's good," he said. "We've got to be in the top five in the game. You've got to give us that. They're in the top five in the game, too."

They are the Angels, the team that introduced Hamilton on Thursday afternoon with a news conference televised live back to Southern California.

The Tigers welcomed Hunter with a quick media session just outside the clubhouse.

Not that they needed to do anything else.

This new guy had already fit right in.

"It felt weird leaving the first team," said Hunter, who went from the Twins to the Angels as a free agent five years ago. "But I'm with my third team now.

"I'm out to win."

It didn't even bother him that the Tigers play in a cold-weather city, even though it was Hunter who once said he'd never stay with the Twins if they built an open-air stadium.

"You know what, they've got different material now, better cold-weather stuff," he said. "We used to freeze in those bike shorts. When I was with the Twins, we had to go buy thermals at Walmart."

With that, there were more stories about old times in the AL Central. Because of all those years with the Twins, Hunter has played 169 career games against the Tigers, more times than he has faced any opponent but the Royals.

He faced Verlander when Verlander was a rookie. He saw Martinez when Martinez was with the Indians. He knows Jim Leyland as well as he knows any manager other than the three he has played for before.

"I always liked that he wore spikes," Hunter said. "I'd say, 'Jimmy Ley, what's going on, are you going to play today?' He said, 'You never know, we might need me to pinch-hit.'"

With that, there was a laugh, a comfortable laugh.

We've heard it before, with the Twins and with the Angels. Torii Hunter has always had fun, and he has always entertained.

"You don't want to look back at your career and say, 'I didn't have enough fun,'" he said.

On Thursday, he wasn't looking back at all. The time with the Angels seemed far in the past.

Torii Hunter is a Tiger, and on the first day he already looked like he belongs.

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