By Shannon Drayer
For Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter, it’s not about the uniform he wears but the game he plays when it comes to passing it on. Make no mistake, right now he is Tiger through and through, but that doesn’t stop him from from taking the next generation of ballplayers under his wing when he has the opportunity.
Hunter was introduced to Mariners rookie Taijuan Walker two years ago by the agent they share. He invited Walker to his house in Dallas, where the two hung out and talked about baseball and life. A friendship was formed.
“We kept in touch,” Hunter told Rick Rizzs on the Mariners pregame show Wednesday afternoon. “All through the minor leagues this year I just kept him motivated, and to see him come up for his first start in Seattle I was happy for him. I was proud because the last two years I have been talking to him, just pouring into him and now he is here, so I decided to take him to breakfast.”
Breakfast for three, it turned out, as Walker’s good friend Brandon Maurer was invited as well. Hunter said the three of them spent some time together Monday night and he decided to invite them to breakfast as well to give them an opportunity to talk some more and ask questions.
“They talked about the longevity of my career and what did I do,” Hunter said. “I just told them that I just kept myself prepared before every game and I played hard like it was my last and I still do that same thing to this day, and once you get to the point where you don’t want to play hard, just take it home.
“I told them each time you take the hill just give it your all. If you get beat giving it your all, you can sleep better at night. If not at night you are going to be looking at your ceiling and the next thing you know it’s 4 a.m. in the morning because you didn’t give it your all.”
In other words, respect the game and give it all you have. Every game means something. These words no doubt have impact coming from a man who has played in more than 2,000 of them.
“He’s a great guy,” Walker said. “He’s funny, but he played for 17 years in the big leagues so to have a veteran I can call as a friend, anytime I need anything, need advice or anything, I can call him right away and I know he will be there to help me.”
For Hunter, doing this is passing it on. When he was young in the game, Kirby Puckett, Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield were some of the many who took him under their wings. A lot of the lessons he tries to pass on came from them.
“He is such a good guy,” Taijuan Walker says of Torii Hunter, whom he knows through the agent they share. (AP)
“Go out there, prepare yourself for every day, save your money, things like that, because you never know when it is over,” Hunter said. “I talked to them about finances, I talked to them about life, about girls, about everything. That’s something that was poured into me and it is my job to give it all back even if it is not my teammates.”
Hunter shared with Walker and Maurer the same things he has shared with players like Matt Kemp and Mike Trout. Most of all, he shared his story.
“Just things I learned over my career,” he said. “All my failures I have had, I try to give whatever failures I overcame so when I see these young guys I want to let them know my failures so they won’t have to go through them and that’s only going to make the game and the players better.”
“This game has done a lot for me, my family,” Hunter continued. “I am able to give back with my family and to give to people I don’t even know. I really appreciate this game of baseball so I just want to give it back to younger guys and be fruitful and make this game better.”
As for the young Mariners he spent time with? Hunter likes what he sees.
“That’s some great kids you guys have got over there. They listen, they ask questions. And we just laugh, crack jokes, you know that but at the same time these guys got up at 9:30 and you know young guys like to sleep in, but they got up,” he said with a laugh, “walked to the breakfast house and we had a great conversation for a couple of hours and then I told them they were released.”
Walker admitted that yes, 9:30 was early for him and even earlier for Maurer, but the experience was well worth it.
“He is such a good guy,” Walker said. “He said just work hard and have fun with it. It goes quick, so enjoy it.”