Detroit Tigers’ Torii Hunter is Our Most Valuable Player!

orii Hunter's Twitter feed chirps bird-sized nuggets of knowledge: "Never be fearful of failure," reads one post. "Be afraid of succeeding at things that don't matter."

Such are routine words of wisdom from the Detroit Tigers outfielder and self-professed baseball "Shaolin monk"-who only days before tweeted, "It's colder than a polar bear's toenail!"

Call him sage with a sense of humor.

Hunter's monk-like desire for knowledge (and a quick quip) is simply a peek into his routinely sanguine outlook on life-and his optimistic mojo that radiates on and off the field.

Since signing a $26 million two-year deal with the Tigers in November 2012, Hunter may arguably be the biggest dose of swagger the team has had in years.


And it's not even about athleticism. Though he's definitely got it-and, at an impressive 39 years old, he's aging more than gracefully. "I probably have diminished in some areas," he says, flashing his signature boyish grin. "But in most areas, I still got it. Power. Instincts." He feels a natural instinct, he explains, to be a role model for his fellow teammates and adoring fans.

The Motor City's favorite Detroit Tiger

Using a lead-by-example approach, Hunter has swiftly become an alpha competitor in our pack of Tigers. And his sense of humor only gives the team some much-needed stripes of personality.

You don't have to be a die-hard Tigers fan to notice Hunter's philosophical disposition and gentlemanly charm in interviews. Like the time he called out LeBron James for leaving Game 1 of the NBA finals for cramps: "I made love to my wife the other night and I caught a cramp in my hamstring," he said. "I actually put my leg out and kept performing. So there's no excuse." And then there are his locker room hijinks. Like the time Hunter kissed an alligator in the Tigers clubhouse.

"I actually staged it," he explains, but only because there wasn't mutual attraction. "Now if it were an attractive alligator, I would have kissed it with the tongue."

On the field, Hunter has a self-awareness that helps him pander to the crowd. When the game is suffocated with tension and rookie players look like deer in headlights-Hunter is crouching Tiger-cool. He credits his calm demeanor to his pregame ritual.

"I sit in a dark place, in an area where nobody is. And I sit and I pray. And I ask God for help for everybody on the field. I ask God for the victory. I ask him for multiple hits," Hunter explains. After a few moments of Zen, he turns his swagger back on, usually with "My Hitta" by YG or "Man Of The Year" by ScHoolboy Q for his walk-up song.

"Some days, you know, God don't give me the hits. But I know the reason I didn't get them is because he got something better planned for me," he says.

Being a sports role model

It's an unwavering faith in destiny you'd expect from a man of the South.

Hunter was born and raised in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, located about 45 miles outside of Little Rock. Frequently ranked one of the most dangerous cities in America, the town-a mostly flat region with sprawling farmlands, streams and bayous in "the land of opportunity" state-is where many people, like Hunter, grew up with nothing. But they had sports.

On weekdays, a 12-year-old Hunter would walk to his grandparents' house every day after school while his mom and dad were still at work. His grandfather always had baseball on the TV, he recalls.

"All I cared about was football," says Hunter, whose father, Theotis Hunter, was a high school football star. Arkansas does not have a Major League Baseball team. But Hunter became a fan of the sport after spotting a hawk-that is, Chicago Cubs right fielder Andre "The Hawk" Dawson.

"He had 49 home runs that year. And got national league MVP," Hunter remembers. A heckuva first year on the Cubs for Dawson, he explains, with excitement still fresh in his eyes. "I'm like, 'Man, this guy is good.'"

The most important piece of that moment, Hunter says, was not finding love for baseball-but finding a Black role model who encouraged him to play what seemed like a majority White sport.

"He had the hat on with the Jheri curl, probably his jersey was greasy and everything … I watched him and kind of grew," says Hunter. He then tried out for his high school baseball team. "I made the team by hitting like him. I had the stiff front leg. I went and got a curl. I wore my hat just like his. You know, everything."

After being chosen as the Minnesota Twins' first-round pick out of high school in 1993, Hunter received the opportunity to tell Dawson face to face about his influence. "And still, to this day, he laughs," says Hunter. "I thought that was the highlight of my career. Just meeting (Andre Dawson)."

African-American baseball players

Yet speaking about diversity in professional baseball can be tricky. "Man, I've answered this question a lot. And it don't ever come out right," says Hunter, referring to a comment he made in 2010 when he called Black Latino players "impostors." Black Latinos, he contended, do not represent African-Americans in the league. He later apologized.

"There's a decline in African-Americans in baseball. It is somewhere in the lower levels with travel baseball," says Hunter-explaining that many Black inner city kids cannot afford to play the sport. "I think we are getting left behind. And also, you're talking about less than 11 percent full-ride scholarships in college for baseball. When, if you can get a full-ride in football and basketball, why not? It's a lot more behind the scenes at a lower level that we don't see."

For this reason, Hunter uses his career to be a mentor. In an effort to impact at-risk youth, he founded the Torii Hunter Project education initiative in 2009.

"I have to try to carry myself in the right light. Whether it's giving back in the community or just having a smile; playing the game the right way," he says. "Because I know someone is watching me (the way) I was watching someone else before I got here."

Life's ups and downs

And we've watched Hunter power through his fair share of public struggles, from dustups with rival players to family drama.

In 2005, Hunter's father revealed a 17-year-old secret son. His father, a Vietnam veteran, has struggled with a crack cocaine addiction since Hunter was a kid, many times leaving the family in poverty. In a Christ-like fashion, Hunter chose to forgive and welcome his half-brother with open arms.

"That's No. 1 in my life. I was raised that way. And I've seen the results of learning God's word. And it's like a light for me. I was in the dark for a long time," says Hunter. "Nothing grows in the dark. Everything dies in the dark. But everything lives in the light. And I think God's word is a light for me."

Around 6 a.m. every day, Hunter reads the Bible and garners his inspirational passages for the team. A necessity, he says, when playing a sport that gambles on failure.

"Three out of 10 in baseball, you're a hero-you're hitting .300," says Hunter, whose career batting average currently stands at .279. "Three out of 10 at another job, you're fired. Three out of 10 in basketball you're Shaquille O'Neal. You know, you suck as a basketball player. Three out of 10 in school is an F."

In baseball, he adds, "You're going to fail a lot more than you succeed. So it's always good to have those inspirational quotes to give some of the young guys. And kind of get them through. These are the things that I think God put me here for. He put me here in this position for a reason."

Words of wisdom

Hunter has two sons on their way to becoming professional athletes-Darius, who plays football at Arkansas State, and Torii Jr., who plays baseball and football for Notre Dame.

"Through all the things that I've been through in baseball, the reason why I went through those was so I can help others like the Nick Castellanoses and Mike Trouts. Whoever it may be," he says, explaining it's the relationships built while playing sports that last well beyond careers.

"In baseball, you try to build a relationship with it, but it doesn't want to build a relationship with you. It keeps going, you know, because it's going to find other (people)," says Hunter. "I've always (said) I'm going to take myself out of this game. And I don't want anybody else to take me out."

After an 18-year career and an already-turbulent first half of the season, Hunter says he's just waiting on the World Series he knows the Detroit Tigers are equipped to win.

"I tell you what. In the midst of a storm, if you keep working through, there is a rainbow. And something good is going to come out of it. And I definitely think, because of this storm we are going through, it's going to make us stronger for the second half."

Bless you boys!

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