MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A fan favorite is returning to the Twin Cities for the 2105 baseball season. The Minnesota Twins announced Wednesday that free agent outfielder Torii Hunter signed a one year, $10.5 million contract to make his return to Minnesota.
He’ll turn 40 this season, and the fans love his personality as much as they do his outfield defense and ability to hit the baseball out of the ballpark. It also prompts the question, who are some of the more famous athletes to get their start with an organization, leave for greener pastures but eventually return to where it all began?
While on a national level, any such list would include arguably the best athlete on the planet: LeBron James. He got the Cleveland Cavaliers as far as the NBA Finals, but left town to join the Miami Heat and win two world championships. James had all the attention of the NBA world in the offseason as he opted out of his contract to become a free agent. In an exclusive with Sports Illustrated, he announced “I’m Coming Home” and rejoined the Cavaliers this season. Suddenly all was forgiven from the Cleveland fan base that burned his jersey when he left for South Beach.
With all due respect to James, though, we thought we’d keep our list filled with Minnesota flavor. It’s the perfect list for those who are obsessed with the “one of us” concept when it comes to local sports. Not all are native Minnesotans, but rather, they started with a franchise, left and eventually returned.
Randy Moss was one of the most polarizing athletes to ever play football in Minnesota. You loved him for his skill and excitement, but could do away with his off-the-field antics and controversies. The Vikings took a chance on him in 1998, and he answered in his rookie season with 1,300 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns. He spent seven seasons in Minnesota before being traded to Oakland. He also played for the Patriots before coming back to Minnesota to play with Brett Favre. In between, he had a scandal with a Minneapolis traffic cop, we all know about “Straight cash, homey” and the debacle with Tinucci’s in the team’s locker room.
Next to Patty Berg, Lindsay Whalen is probably the queen of Minnesota sports. She put the Gophers women’s basketball program on the map with a run to the Final Four. The Hutchinson native started her NBA career in Connecticut, but ultimately came home to win two WNBA titles with the Minnesota Lynx. She’s arguably the most popular female athlete in Minnesota sports history.
Brock Lesnar is a huge, scary-looking man who looks like he could attack at any moment. He was a national champion heavyweight wrestler at the University of Minnesota. After college, he started a professional career with the WWF. Lesnar then wanted to try a career in the NFL and made the Minnesota Vikings practice squad in 2004. He played in the preseason but was eventually cut. Since, he’s been involved in UFC, WWE and remains a large, scary-looking man not to be messed with.
If you look up in the rafters at Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota campus, you’ll see Kevin McHale’s jersey. He was a legend for the Gophers before pursuing an NBA career with the Boston Celtics. Though not in a playing capacity, McHale returned to the Twin Cities in 1993 and was a head coach and general manager for the Timberwolves. He was also voted Mr. Basketball in 1976.
Jack Morris was born in St. Paul and drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 1976. He won a World Series with the Tigers in 1984, but will always been known in Minnesota for his Game 7, 10-inning performance to give the Twins a World Series title over the Atlanta Braves. He was named the World Series MVP. He has a career record of 254-186 as a starting pitcher and has 2,478 career strikeouts. Morris now does TV and radio analysis for Twins broadcasts.
Fran Tarkenton will go down as one of the best quarterbacks in Vikings history. He was drafted by Minnesota in 1961 and spent five seasons with the Vikings until being traded to the New York Giants in 1967. Tarkenton was traded back to the Vikings in 1972 and led Minnesota to three Super Bowls in the 1970s, which they all lost.
Sticking with the “one of us” theme, Paul Molitor is a St. Paul native who spent a majority of his MLB career with the Milwaukee Brewers. He spent the last three years of his career with the Twins and recorded his 3,000th career hit. After retiring, he stayed around the Twins organization as a minor league instructor until 2014, when he got promoted to bench coach. He’s now replaced Ron Gardenhire as the newest Twins manager.
Hall-of-Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven spent his first seven seasons with the Minnesota Twins before having stints with Texas, Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Blyleven returned to the Twins in 1985 and was 15-12 as a starter on the 1987 World Series winning team. He retired after the 1992 season and now does color commentary for Twins television broadcasts.
Though he didn’t actually start his career in Minnesota, Andrew Brunette grabbed the hearts of Wild fans in 2002-03 season. His goal against the Avalanche clinched a playoff series win in a year where the Wild got to the Western Conference Finals. Brunette spent three years with the Wild before leaving for Colorado. After three seasons there, he came back for three more with the Wild.