ARLINGTON -- Center fielder Torii Hunter was greeted with more than a few boos Monday at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. He is, after all, the hometown hero who refused to play at home. The Rangers last winter made signing Hunter their top offseason priority, and thought it would be an easy deal to complete. Hunter is a longtime resident of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and his personal talks with Rangers owner Tom Hicks went into such depth that plans were being discussed to build a youth academy together. Hicks was offering a five-year contract worth nearly $75 million, and felt comfortable that his team was well ahead in a two-team race for Hunter's services. The two-time All-Star's previous club -- the Minnesota Twins -- wanted to retain Hunter, but not at anything close to that price.
That's when the earth shifted. The Angels jumped into the fray, and jumped hard. They offered a five-year deal worth $90 million in the 48 hours before Thanksgiving, and gave Hunter a deadline. It may have been the richest side dish in the history of Turkey Day. "I didn't even expect [the Angels] to come after me," Hunter recalled Monday. "When they did, it kind of caught me by surprise. But everybody knows I wanted to play out there in that stadium in Anaheim. I wanted to play here [Arlington], too, up until that point." For the second straight winter, the Angels had stepped in to sign away their division rival's top choice to play center field in spacious Rangers Ballpark. Texas lost its incumbent center fielder, Gary Matthews Jr., to Arte Moreno's team the previous November. So it was understandable when Hicks sounded a bit bitter after seeing Hunter stolen from his grasp. "We were totally surprised by this," Hicks told the Dallas Morning News after the signing was announced. "He told us he wanted to play in his hometown. ... But in baseball, it's always about the money." Well, sometimes, Hunter agreed. But the outfielder makes no apologies for going to a team that not only offered significantly more money, but also is expected to contend for a championship far sooner than the Rangers. "The offseason, it was business, on both sides," Hunter said. "When this game is over, it's just my wife and kids [to answer to], that's it. When it's over, it's over. Torii who?" Hunter said there are no hard feelings on his side, and he would not rule out playing for the Rangers before his career ends. But that would require an ownership change or Hicks getting over being spurned by a player he felt he had just about signed. "Meeting the Hicks family, they were cool guys, a great group of people," Hunter said. "They invited me up to their house and ... it was a hard decision. It wasn't easy at all. I had two teams I really liked before the Angels came in, and that was Minnesota and Texas. I didn't want to leave [Minnesota], but up there it was different. "It doesn't matter what is said here [in Texas]. I wanted to be here, but it just didn't work out. The negotiations just didn't work out at all. Not even close." That's why, for a man who made what he felt was the best decision for his career and his family's future, a few boos raining down from the stands in Arlington wouldn't bother him. "I love all fans," Hunter said. "But I spent a lot of time in Minnesota -- 15 years in that organization -- and Minnesota is where I really wanted a great response. And they gave me that [during the Angels' season-opening road trip]. It was a good reception, it was great." Come to think of it, so was that very satisfying Thanksgiving meal.
Ken Daley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.