Tommy Hunter is amazed to be back with Mets after multiple back surgeries

Tommy Hunter, who thought his pitching days were over after undergoing multiple surgeries last year to repair six hernias in his back, made it back to the majors on Friday when the Mets promoted him from Triple-A Syracuse.

“It’s kind of wild,” said Hunter, a 35-year-old right-hander. “I don’t think many people understand how upset I was.”

He last appeared in a game in May 2021 while he was with the Mets and garnered the first hit — a line drive single — of his 14-year major league career, after which he jubilantly explained that he felt like ” a real baseball player “feel.”

The next day, his back said “No,” Hunter recalled. It had bothered him, but this was worse. The Mets put him on the injured list with “back pain” the next day, moved him to the 60-day IL the next month, and traded him to the Rays on July 23 — to match salary in the Rich Hill deal. In November he became a free agent.

Those technical details were secondary, if anything, to life concerns. He couldn’t feel his left leg.

“I had no idea you could be in so much pain,” said Hunter, father of sons aged 6, 4 and 1. “I tried again to play with my children. I tried to walk. I tried to do important things like feed the baby. I struggled to do those things.”

Baseball was less an afterthought than no thought at all — until February, months away from his surgeries. He was in his basement throwing punches to his oldest child when he realized, “That didn’t hurt.” The wheels started turning. He couldn’t help but wonder. His wife Ellen encourages him: “Do you just want to try it and have your picture taken with the little one?”

Their youngest, born April 21, was the only family member who didn’t have a photo with Hunter on a major league field. Hunter wanted to change that and moved to Palm Beach County, Florida to train at Cressey Sports Performance, a renowned training facility popular with professional ball players. In late April, he had a minor league deal with the Mets.

Hunter did well with the Minors — 4.61 ERA in eight games, better recently — and the Mets called him up to start their streak against the Marlins. The Mets demoted reliever Jake Reed to Syracuse and named infielder Gosuke Katoh to off the roster.

That reunited Hunter with Buck Showalter, whom he always referred to as his favorite manager after their years together in Baltimore, and teammates from last season. When Pete Alonso walked into the locker room for a big hug on Friday afternoon, Hunter told him his 6-year-old had been wearing his Alonso No. all day. 20 Shirsey worn.

“I want them to wear Dad’s shirt,” Alonso told him.

Hunter’s family will be in town on Saturday. He takes a picture with the little one.

“Life is about opportunities. You have to take her,” he said. “Put your foot in the door, see if it happens. That’s the approach I took. Luckily it turned out that way to be back here in the clubhouse. I’m pretty happy about that.”

Tim Healey is the Mets’ beat writer for Newsday. Tim was born on Long Island and raised in Connecticut. He has previously worked for the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the Boston Globe and MLB.com. He is also the author of Hometown Hardball, a book about minor league baseball in the Northeast.

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