By Joe Rini
Veteran relief pitcher Tommy Hunter contributes on and off the field for the New York Mets. Hunter possesses the wisdom of nearly 500 regular and postseason appearances when he steps to the mound. He’s been a starter and a reliever, a mentor, and a protege in his 15-year career. After back surgery ended his 2021 season last May, Hunter returned to the Mets bullpen midseason this year. LWOB interviewed Hunter on July 23 before the Mets-Padres game to talk about his career and the 2022 season.
When asked how he adjusted to his varied pitching roles, Hunter immediately said, “You accept it. It’s all about acceptance.” He continued, “There are important roles in baseball. An important role in baseball is taking the ball when they ask you to take the ball and do what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to get outs.”
“There are times when you want the ball in certain situations,” Hunter said. “But if that’s not what it’s called for, then you do your job and pass it along to the next guy.” When I mentioned how some relievers see themselves in specific roles, Hunter said, “I’m a baseball player.”
What does he try to impart to his younger teammates? Hunter said, “Ride the waves. You have to enjoy the waves. They’re going to go up and they’re going to come crashing down. All waves come to an end but it’s about getting on the next one.”
Tommy Hunter Contributes
The robust six-foot-three-inch Hunter compared it to being a “gnat.” Speaking of his younger teammates, “You have to be persistent. Always keep coming back. You get knocked down, get up, and come back. The game is about failure. So if you can embrace it and learn from it, you’ll come out positive on the other end.”
Hunter said he was fortunate to have veteran teammates like Kevin Millwood and Michael Young when he broke in with the Texas Rangers. He learned from them “to be the same person every day and take the good with the bad,” and never give up.
For someone who broke in as a starter and pitched as a closer, LWOB asked how he adjusted to intermittent use in the Mets bullpen. “I do the exact same thing every day. As far as throwing and prep work, it’s every day.” For Hunter, being consistent between outings leads to consistency on the mound. He added, “I’m up every day. I’m good to go. It’s your job to tell me ‘No.’ I’m ready to roll.”
When asked about the team’s approach down the stretch, Hunter said, “If you play hard and play consistently every day, the wins and losses will take care of itself or the fans will let you know.” Referring to his three young sons, Hunter joked, “I’ve got three little boys that watch me and critique me every single night, and I try not to give them any ammunition when I come home, so it’s all hugs and kisses and ‘Nice job Dad!’”
Surgery and Rehab
In fact, his family provided the incentive to rehab from major back surgery and return to the MLB in 2022. Recalling his ambition to play in the MLB as a kid, Hunter said, “We dedicate our lives to this so you never want to quit.” He spoke of how his wife supported him during his surgery and rehab and he added, “I needed a picture with my new baby and I got it. It keeps you going.” Figuratively tipping his hat to his younger teammates, Hunter said,”The young guys are keeping me around and keeping me healthy.”
LWOB asked Hunter if Buck Showalter had changed since he played for him with Baltimore Orioles a decade ago. “He’s the same guy. You can learn a lot from him about consistency, about bringing the same thing every single day. He brings it every day. He’s prepared, well prepared. He’s an easy guy to follow.”
Down the Stretch
Hunter dispelled the notion that there was any tension within the clubhouse as the trade deadline approaches. The veteran of seven major league teams calmly said, “It is what it is. We’re playing ping pong. If that’s tension, we don’t have that.”
The Mets enter August in first place with contributions from the entire roster. Pitching to a 2.38 ERA across nine appearances since his return from back surgery on June 19, Tommy Hunter contributes on and off the field. He may not be the starting pitcher who led the AL in winning percentage in 2010 or closing games as he did in 2014, but a pitcher who gets guys out and exercises veteran leadership will be a valuable commodity down the stretch.