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Hunter, Torii 1975–

Torii Hunter 1975

Baseball outfielder

At a Glance

Sources

A three-time Golden Glove award winner, Minnesota Twins centerfielder Torii Hunter ranked as one of the most exciting defensive players in baseball in the first years of the twenty-first century. American League batters looked on helplessly as Hunter made leaping catches to rob them of hits, running headlong into the outfield walls so often that it came to be almost a personal trademark. As he moved toward an age when many professional baseball players reach the peak of their abilities, many observers felt that Hunter had the potential to become one of the greats of the game; he was already one of the most fun to watch.

Torii Kedar Hunter was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, on July 18, 1975, the son of a cotton mill engineer father and a schoolteacher mother. He and his three brothers (Taru, Tishque, and Tramar) all played baseball, and he first began to develop his fielders legs by chasing down baseballs and footballs thrown by his brothers. But it was Torii who was the standout at Pine Bluff High School. He was spotted by Minnesota Twins scouts by the time he was a sophomore, and was named to the 1992 Junior Olympics baseball team and to the USA Today newspapers national all-star team. Straight out of high school, he was drafted by the Twins (he was picked 20th) and given a $450,000 signing bonus.

The Twins took their time developing their young prospect, and he moved up slowly through the teams farm system, starting out in the Gulf Coast League. During his first season he had a batting average of only .190. He developed an affection for Texas, eventually building a large home in a Houston suburb for his wife Katrina and their four children (three of whom were Hunters from previous relationships). But soon Hunter was off to the Twins New Britain, Connecticut, affiliate. Hitting was more of a problem than fielding from the start, and Hunter sometimes despaired of getting the knack of it.

Struggling through the 1997 season in New Britain with a .231 average, Hunter didnt seem to be improving much. Id come home after every game and lie on the bed in my apartment and look at the ceiling, replaying my at-bats, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, he told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. At one point he seriously considered quitting the game and moving back to Arkansas.

At a Glance

Born Torii Kedar Hunter on July 18, 1975, in Pine Bluff, AR; son of Theotis (a cotton mill engineer) and Shirley (a schoolteacher) Hunter; married Katrina; four children.

Career: Gulf Coast League Twins, centerfielder, 1992-96; New Britain Rock Cats, centerfielder, 1996-98; Minnesota Twins centerfielder, 1999-,

Selected awards: Three Golden Glove awards, 2001, 2002, 2003.

Addresses: Team office Minnesota Twins, Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, 900 S Fifth St., Minneapolis, MN 55415.

But a freak occurrence restored Hunters inspiration. In Baltimore during an East Coast road trip, a trade opened a temporary spot in the Twins lineup for an outfielder. Rather than move a player across the country from their Salt Lake City farm team for just one or two days, the Twins turned instead to Hunter, who was within commuting distance of Baltimore. Hunter actually played in only one game, making an appearance as a pinch runner. But the excitement recharged Hunters batteries. It was an electric atmosphere, he told the Star-Tribune. I saw how much fun those players were having, I saw all the people, I told myself, This is what you can dream about..

In 1998 Hunters batting average jumped near the .300 mark, and after a stint at the Twins AAA-level farm team, he was called up to the majors. He played in 19 games for the Twins in 1998 and became the teams starting centerfielder the following year. His hitting remained inconsistent, and during a bad slump early in 2000, batting only .207, he was sent back to Salt Lake City. After two months, however, he was back with the Twins, and he finished the season with a respectable .280 average.

In 2001 Hunter began to appear on fan radar screens, as he won his first Golden Glove award for fielding and added power to his repertoire at the plate, slamming 27 home runs. He hit his stride in 2002, winning another Golden Glove award, batting .289 with 29 home runs, and gaining tremendous visibility when he was named to the American League All-Star team for the first time. As it had before, excitement brought out the best in Hunters abilities. He made a leaping catch on the outfield warning track that robbed star slugger Barry Bonds of a home run. I had so much fun, Hunter told Baseball Digest. Its something you dream of as a baseball player. It was a dream come true for me.

Fan-pleasing catches like the All-Star Game grab, along with Hunters solid overall performance and the Twins advance to the American League Championship series, made him a much more marketable player than he had been previously, and some tension marked his negotiations with the financially tight-fisted Twins front office prior to the 2003 season. Hunter considered moving back to Texas in order to be closer to his family, but eventually signed a four-year contract with the Twins worth a reported $32 million.

The Twins made the playoffs once again in 2003, and Hunter went through another cycle of frustration followed by a hot streak in the spotlight. After a particularly bad slump in July of that year, Hunter shocked fans by smashing a bat to pieces in anger. He was quoted by Knight-Ridder News Service as saying, I felt like I was falling back into 2000, when I got sent down [to Class AAA], and I was listening to everybody, and it hurt me. But he made several more razzle-dazzle catches in the outfield and roared back at the plate, finishing the season with a .250 average and a career-high 102 RBIs.

Hunter, who keeps a small wooden cross in his locker, has credited his religious faith for both his spirit of persistence and for the fact that he got the chance to play professional baseball in the first place. I know the Lord is the main reason I didnt get shot or stay with a gang, he told the Star-Tribune. He was one of the reasons I got out of the neighborhood and was able to get into the league and help my mother and my father. Still a developing player, Hunter looks forward to more seasons of spectacular fielding. Asked by Sporting News whether he was beginning to reconsider his penchant for running into fences, Hunter answered, No. Thats against my nature.

Sources

Periodicals

Baseball Digest, March 2003, p. 61.

Houston Chronicle, July 10, 2002, p. 5.

Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, September 12, 2002, p. K0932; August 18, 2003, p. K3128.

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), July 21, 2002, p. C7.

Sporting News, September 29, 2003, p. 59.

Sports Illustrated for Kids, March 1, 2003, p. 36.

Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), August 23, 1997, p. C7; March 9, 1998, p. C6; May 26, 2000, p. C11; September 15, 2000, p. C1; July 9, 2002, p. C1; March 30, 2003, p. S3; May 3, 2003, p. B6; September 28, 2003, p. C1; November 5, 2003, p. C2.

On-line

Torii Hunter, CBS Sports Line, http://cbssportslihne.com/mlb/players/playerpage/l0813 (December 11, 2003).

Torii Hunter, ESPN, http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/players/stats?statsld=5884 (December 11, 2003).

James M. Manheim

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