Torii Hunter, a man who was raised in Pine Bluff and went on to become one of the greatest baseball players in American history – with a 19 year baseball career and a hall-of-fame induction, was recently back in Arkansas for a talk at Argenta’s The Joint Theater and Coffeehouse.
Hunter is well known for the nickname Sammy Sosa gave him, “Spiderman,” and his impeccable career, which started when he was only 17 years old with the Minnesota Twins organization.
“I was a kid from Pine Bluff, Arkansas. I was the 20th pick overall in the first round of the draft and I was prepared to go to the University of Arkansas to play,” Hunter said, explaining that the Twins organization bought him out of his scholarship, after some negotiation between them and his uncle.
“My uncle worked at Havertys at the time, and because of my college status, I couldn’t have an agent. Next thing I know, he’s negotiating my contract with me like I was a piece of furniture,” Hunter said, retelling his memory of the event fondly.
Before Hunter knew it, he was starting his journey in the minor leagues with a short flight to Fort Myers, Florida, where he was notably picked up from the airport in a beat-up pickup truck and introduced to a league full of people who didn’t speak English, and who all had different life experiences than him.
The start of his baseball career was one that was unexpected and difficult. According to Hunter, playing in the minor leagues is something that is hard, but worth it overall.
“It was always like 110 degrees, and hot,” Hunter said, explaining that the minor leagues are marked by hard work of athletes trying to make it to the Major Leagues.
While Hunter was originally picked in 1993, he did not play in the Major Leagues until 1997, when he finally made his way to the field. Hunter remained with the Twins organization up until 2007, when he became a free agent.
“I thought that making a college decision was hard, but the hardest decision I ever made was deciding if I was leaving the team that made me a man,” Hunter said. “I was so loyal at that time that I had forgotten the business side of baseball. I grew up with the Twins organization.”
According to Hunter, he had never cried in a game before, but felt tears fall when he made the final walk around the stadium to say goodbye to the fans of the Twins in 2007.
“When they called my name to do the walk-around, I knew it was my last game and I definitely felt tears in that moment,” Hunter said, reminiscing on his last game with the Twins.
After his time with the Twins, Hunter made his way to Los Angeles, where he continued his career with the Angels.
“On Thanksgiving Day in 2007, I ended up signing with the Angels,” Hunter said, noting the differences between the two organizations. “I knew Twins baseball, and I knew the Twins organization, but the Angels have a completely different style of coaching and a different philosophy. Coming from the Twins, I had a different perspective, which ultimately made me a better player. I was a better hitter, a wiser defender and I was a better leader.”
It was with the Angels where Hunter, with the help of a trainer named Smitty, began to understand his talents and gifts in not just athletics, but in leadership.
“One time, Smitty told me that I had a true gift. He said, ‘Torii, you have a gift. You know how to get to know each and every one of your players. You know what they like and what they dislike and how they want to be pushed, people don’t do that.’ And from there, I kind of really got into my gift and started to help guys become better than me,” Hunter said. “And that carried over into my everyday life.”
Hunter eventually made his way back to the Twins organization to finish his career where he had started it.
“Before I had left in 2007, they had been asking players what they would like to see in the new stadium, and by the time I had came back I got to play in the stadium where all of our suggestions had been taken into consideration and most became a reality,” Hunter said, reflecting on the hot/cool tubs and the new, heated ground of the stadium. “It was so cool to see all they had done when I returned. I saw the fans who were kids the last time I played with the Twins, as adults with their own kids at games. I came back to the organization as a better man, and still to this day, I talk with some of the younger guys I played with at the time.”
Hunter, now in his post-baseball days, has continued his legacy in many other ways. With three boys and five grandchildren, Hunter keeps busy with his own family. He is also big into entrepreneurial endeavors with a skin care brand, ties in commercial real estate, three restaurants, coffee shops and a cigar lounge located in Argenta, called The Culture Cigar Lounge.
“I’m glad to be in business now, and I’m happy to be back home and see businesses here,” Hunter said.
Hunter is now based in Dallas, Texas, but still plans to bring more of his endeavors to the Natural State when the timing is right.