Summer is lurking right around the corner. The contenders are starting to distance themselves from the pretenders. For the contenders, a leader will step forth, seize control of his squad and become the talk of the town. The pretenders will be left to glance about, wondering when their champion will finally step forth.
The Angels are still waiting for their unquestioned leader to take the reins. Without a real star to define them, they have meandered aimlessly through the 2011 campaign, milling about at a .500 record.
Up until this crucial point, the Halos have benefitted greatly from playing in a mediocre division. But Texas, who sits atop the division at 30-26, is quickly returning to its winning ways. The window of opportunity is closing in a hurry.
The Angels, then, are in dire need of a player who can, with a magical play here and there, steer the squad toward the promised land.
Enter Torii Hunter, the nine-time Gold Glover and four-time All-Star.
Hunter struggled for the first quarter or so of the season, grounding into more double plays than anybody in the majors. Many critics (including yours truly) grumbled that his good karma had run out.
Even in his moments of struggle, though, the Angels faithful stuck by their man. In most at-bats at Angel Stadium this season, fans chant the slugger’s name, hoping for a long fly ball and that cocky flip of the bat.
He must know, then, that Angel fans still place a tremendous amount of hope in “Big Game Hunter.”
He has responded accordingly in the last week or so, showing flashes of the same brilliance that so endeared him to Halo fans in 2008 and 2009. His latest heroics came in the form of a two-homer performance against Kansas City on Monday. His second blast came in the ninth, a majestic two-run shot that wound up winning the game. The next day’s action saw Hunter make a spectacular catch in right field to save a run in a losing effort.
If Hunter wants to cement his place as top dog in Anaheim, he’s got to maintain that high level of play for the rest of the season. He needs to prove to himself, his teammates and the fans that he is capable of playing at an all-star level for the entire season.
Then, and only then, will it truly be Torii’s town again.