Torii Hunter owns the entire field. He sacrifices his body to rob homeruns—almost as often as he goes yard himself. A fractured left ankle put him on the DL for the last third of the 2005 season, but his stats from the previous four years certify him as a two-way threat. From 2001-04, he averaged 92 RBI, 26 homeruns and a .989 fielding percentage. We fired one question after another at the seven-time Gold Glover. Like his field play, Torii was ready for anything sent his way. He rapped on dominos, Roger Clemens and more.
STACK: What was your most amazing athletic accomplishment in high school?
TH: My most amazing accomplishment, man, was winning the state championship. I earned MVP for that game, and it was the greatest feeling. I felt like we really worked hard that whole season for something. That was the first time I knew what a World Series might feel like. So now I’m really focused to get to the World Series. I want that feeling back from 1992, from the state championship.
STACK: Was it at that point that you knew you wanted to play professionally?
TH: That’s right. My number one sport was football when I was really young. I was in love with football. I played since I was six years old, and I didn’t even see a baseball until I was like 11. But when I won that state championship in Arkansas, that’s when I told myself, “Man, I think I might be able to play this game.” So I stuck with it, but I wasn’t thinking about the pros—just playing in college first. The next thing I knew I was getting drafted in the first round. The Twins bought my scholarship and bam! I had school paid for, and I can go back any time I want if things don’t work out with baseball. I have something to fall back on.
STACK: What’s your favorite thing about playing professional baseball?
TH: It’s really just this career as a whole. Everybody wants to play their sport for a career. I was blessed and fortunate enough to play major league baseball as my career. And I have fun with it. I love the competitiveness—I get to compete every day as my job.
STACK: Take me through a game day.
TH: Every day that I have a game, I make sure to sleep in until about 10:00. Then I go have breakfast at a pancake house in Minnesota. I used to have breakfast with Jacque Jones, but now he’s with the Cubs. So I gotta go to breakfast by myself. I go to lunch about 1:00—get a little sandwich and whatever, then go to the stadium.
I do my warm-up, like ride the bike for 10 minutes, and then get some treatment if I have an injury or something that’s nagging me—like a tight hamstring. So I get the trainers to work me out; then I get in the whirlpool. Anything you can come up with, I do it before a game so I’m really loose.
After working with the trainers, I get outside, stretch, then take BP about 4:15. Since I play center field, I get out there, make some long distance throws and take jumps. I watch guys on the other team hit the ball, so I can try to figure out where they’re going with the ball before they actually hit it. That’s key.
STACK: How do you remain calm the last hour or so before the game?
TH: Actually, when Jacque was here, we played dominos for about 45 minutes to an hour to get our minds off the game. But we took dominos so seriously that it started carrying over to the game. If I worked Jacque, he’d go into the game in a slump [laughs]. So we had to quit playing about 30 minutes before the game. We put on our iPods, focused on the game and stretched in the clubhouse. At 6:45, we would go out and run. Then it’s game on.
STACK: What are your emotions like before a game?
TH: I get this feeling in my stomach—it’s not nervousness; that’s what happened my first year. But now I just feel like I’m ready to go, and I’m anxious to see what’s gonna happen that day. Am I gonna hit a homerun? Have three stolen bases? Am I gonna rob two or three homeruns, or just one? I’m just always trying to put in my head what I’m going to do that day. It might not happen, but I still put it in my head to do it.
STACK: How do you keep yourself up when you’re having a bad game—not playing to your potential?
TH: You know what? When I was younger—my first two or three years in the League—I couldn’t accept failure. But I learned to understand that in the game of baseball, three out of 10 makes you a hero. With any other job, three out of 10 means you’re fired. Even in most other sports—three out of 10 free throws is bad. But three out of 10 in baseball is good. I put it together and say, “Look, if I strike out, I can’t worry about that.” And then next time I get up, I forget about my strikeout. I always talk positive about what I’m doing, too. If I strike out, I tell myself that I’m going to let the pitcher have it next time.
STACK: Any game-time superstitions?
TH: Oh man, you know what’s a trip? I have to clean my shoes before every game.
STACK: Do you have just one pair you’re always cleaning?
TH: It’s the same pair of shoes, yeah. And if I don’t have any hits in those shoes for like 10 days, I throw those shoes away, get new ones and then keep cleaning those. They can be brand new, and I’ll still spray bathroom scrub on them and clean them off. If I slide during the game and get dirt all over my shoes, all over my jersey, I run upstairs between innings and clean my shoes. My jersey’s still dirty, but my shoes are sparkling clean. They always say, “If you look good, you play good.”
STACK: So you played football and baseball. Any other sports in high school?
TH: I played basketball and track, too.
STACK: Do you think that high school athletes should focus on one sport, or play more than one?
TH: I don’t think any player should focus on one sport. It might not be the one that he is best at. Play every sport. You never know how good you are until you try. If you’re an athlete whose grades are good enough for an academic scholarship, or whose parents can’t afford college, playing three sports improves your chances of getting an athletic scholarship.
STACK: Any last words for high school athletes?
TH: In every high school, there is a superstar athlete who thinks he’s the man. His talent comes naturally. But he still needs to keep working hard, because there’s always another guy who thinks he’s the man and he is working hard. And if he outworks you, then you’re nothing. So always work hard at what you do and never stop. Never get a big head and always stay grounded.
STACK: What’s on your iPod?
TH: It’s always Tupac. I listen to every Tupac song, and I feel it. Where I’m from, Tupac Shakur is the guy who speaks for real. He doesn’t talk about all the Bentleys and chains and ice that the guys in the rap game now talk about. We didn’t have that stuff in our hood, so why rap about it? Tupac was the only guy who really put it out there and rapped about what goes on in neighborhoods and households. He speaks for real and that’s what gets me pumped, because he says some of the things I went through.
STACK: What challenge that he raps about speaks to you the most?
TH: Tupac always raps about innocent bystanders—a little kid who sees a gang fight and ends up getting shot, even though he has nothing to do with it. I’ve actually seen that before. I’ve seen it. You know, people wanted me to be in a gang, and I had to fight not to be in a gang—I didn’t want to. And the other thing he talks about are moms and dads who don’t talk to or take care of their kids. I can get a feel for these things. I’m there bobbing my head, and it gets me focused on what I need to do.
STACK: It inspires you?
TH: Yeah, and it reminds me how far I’ve come. And when I get out there on the field, I don’t take it for granted. I get out there and play hard every day. I don’t want to go backward, just forward.
STACK: What was the biggest challenge in making it to the pros?
TH: Falling down. A lot of people don’t know how to get back up once they fall. You want to get to the top so fast—and you expect to get there so fast—that the first few years in the Minors are hard. It’s easy to get negative if you have a bad month or year. You tell yourself, “Well, I won’t make it to the Bigs, because I’m 20, 21 years old, and I’m still not there yet.” But that’s still young; it’s just hard to realize that. So the hardest thing is getting over negativity and failure.
STACK: Who’s the most challenging pitcher you face?
TH: If you look at my numbers, Roger Clemens is the toughest on me. I’m glad he’s in the National League. He’s the only guy in the Majors who’s owned me. I have one hit in 25 at-bats. I haven’t faced him in two or three years. If I face him this year, I will get that hit.
Song: Dear Mama [Tupac] Artist: Tupac
Video Game: Socom 3 and Madden Football
Movie: Scarface. I’ve been watching that for about 20 years.
Food: Definitely a cheeseburger, even though I haven’t had one in awhile—about a year.
Clothing Line: Sean John
Actor/Actress: Samuel L. Jackson and Halle Berry. She don’t have to act, she can just stand there.
Ballpark: Yankee Stadium is nice because of the energy there. But I love Jacobs Field in Cleveland. I love the looks of it. I love the way the ball carries. I love everything about it.
Football Team: Kansas City Chiefs
Basketball Team: Miami Heat