NEW YORK -- Torii Hunter lobbied hard for Mark Teixeira to re-sign with the Angels over the winter, to no avail. But when the Angels met the Yankees earlier this season, in a precursor to the American League Championship Series that kicks off Friday night at Yankee Stadium, Teixeira assured his buddy Hunter that all would be well.
"The first time I got to first base, he told me, 'We'll see you in the ALCS,'" Hunter recalled Thursday. "I thought, 'I like that.' And it's true. Here we are." Hunter is here in the playoffs facing the Yankees for the third time in his career, having previously faced them in the 2003 and '04 AL Division Series, while with the Twins. He's feeling a little more optimistic about his club's chances this time around. "With the Twins in '03 and '04, we had no chance," Hunter said with a laugh. "We were making minimum wage! ... Everywhere I go, we play the Yankees. But now I feel we've really got that chance." And the Yankees then, as now, were making significantly more. Asked what makes this installment of the Bronx Bombers so tough, Hunter was quick with his response. "They've got a $10 billion payroll," he joked, before turning more serious. "Those guys over there are tough. They're good players. They work pitchers and they play consistent baseball. They've got a lot of guys who know how to play the game." Of course, the Angels aren't short on such players, either. And if finances are going to be part of the equation, then the Angels are no paupers with a payroll of about $113 million.
Hunter himself gets a nice chunk of that change, having signed a five-year, $90 million deal with the Angels before the 2008 season. But he does all he can to earn his paycheck. "He's probably our highest-paid player," general manager Tony Reagins said, "but he also works the hardest. So what kind of message does that send to our young players? That's the kind of leader he is." Hunter also leads the Angels' clubhouse in quotes. He was his typical, entertaining self when addressing a horde of media at Yankee Stadium during Thursday's rained-out workout session. He talked about the weather. "I don't think it's that cold, is it?" he asked. When told it was in the low 40s, he changed his tune. "That," he confirmed, "is cold!" He talked about his good friend CC Sabathia, his Game 1 opponent. "He's one of my favorites in the game," Hunter said. "We faced each other a lot when I was with the Twins and he was with the Indians. After the game, we'd go out to dinner. He'd throw a 97 mph up by my chin, then we'd go out to dinner. That's why I wanted him on my club. He's a bulldog." And Hunter talked about his high school football days, when he referred to himself as "The Sandman," because, he said, "I used to put the other team to sleep." Hunter will be facing a different "Sandman" in Yankees closer Mariano Rivera during this series, and he'll be facing the only team in baseball that won more games than his Angels in 2009. But he's entering the ALCS, freezing weather and all, with his usual enthusiasm. And while Teixeira's premonition proved correct, Hunter would have been pleased with any opponent. "I don't care where it is," he said. "Being in the ALCS, period, is exciting."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.