Now -- at 37 and in his 16th season -- he's getting back into that, as an exceedingly effective No. 2 hitter for the Angels.
"I hit-and-ran, I bunted, did everything," Hunter said of his younger days in the Twins organization. "Then I showed a lot of power one year in 2001, and that's when they said, 'This dude can hit for power, let's put him in the fourth, fifth and sixth hole.' That's what happened. It changed my life. Good thing, but at the same time, I always wanted to hit .300."
He has that chance now.
Hunter has notched 13 hits over his last four games, putting his batting average at .308 and prompting manager Mike Scioscia to say he "might be playing the best baseball we've seen in his [five-year] stay with us." Since his June 8 move to the No. 2 spot -- which comfortably resides between Mike Trout and Albert Pujols -- his batting average is .344.
Those numbers have helped make this lineup a force over the past three months and are potentially making the right fielder more expensive to retain as an upcoming free agent -- though Hunter and the Angels both say they want to stay together beyond this season.
"The two-spot is really becoming a perfect fit for him -- it has been for a while -- just for the fact that he's back in tune with probably the type of hitter he was back in the Minor Leagues and when he first came to the big leagues," Scioscia said. "His power developed, and he was a guy who hit 25 home runs a year, but he's more than that. And I think he's back in tune with that."
At 12 homers heading into the final month of the regular season, Hunter has little to no shot at matching his 2001-11 average of 24. But he's on pace for a career-high batting average.
"It's fun not swinging hard," said Hunter, in the final season of a five-year deal. "Hitting in the two-hole, I don't have to swing hard. It's helping me a lot."
It could help him finally finish with a .300 batting average.
"Hitting .300 would be special," Hunter said, "but nothing more special than winning a World Series."