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Torii Hunter headed to the Los Angeles Angels this off-season for the kind of money ($90 million) that usually involves multinational corporate mergers. No matter. The Angels got a deal. Hunter brings seven gold gloves, 192 homeruns and 711 RBIs to an increasingly potent offense, as well as a veteran’s leadership and an old school, play-or-die attitude. We talked to him in February about his role with the Angels and about the mental and physical aspects of succeeding on the Major League level.
Q: Why did the Angels want you?
A: I’m one of those guys who goes out and plays the game the right way. I play hard. I run the bases well. My defense never goes anywhere. I’m pretty sure my defense is one of the reasons they added me to the lineup. I’ve been hitting for power the last five or six years. I bring a total package.
Q: What’s the perfect scenario for Torii Hunter and the Angels?
A: Getting to the World Series and winning it. Everybody knows the money was great, but if the Angels sucked, I wouldn’t be here. It’s all about winning. I love the way the Angels play the game. I’m here to run over a catcher if I have to, take out a second basemen, make a diving play or a game-winning hit.
Q: How do you maintain your 32-inch vertical jump?
A: When I train, I do a lot of footwork and jumping and bursting exercises. I do frog jumps. You hold a medicine ball above your head, then bring it down between your legs, then swing it out as far as you can and jump with it.
Q: What’s the hardest part about a 162-game schedule?
A: Among baseball players we have something called the Dog Days of August. August and September are when you get tired mentally. Physically you’re tired, but mentally this time can make you very tired.
Q: How do you stay focused?
A: The routine you’ve had the whole season, you keep it going. I think about how far I’ve come in my life or in the game. I close my eyes and visualize that. I put everything in perspective, and I tell myself, “This is not the time to quit now, let’s go!”
Q: Who are some of the players you admire?
A: Ken Griffey and Kirby Puckett were the first guys I looked up to. When I first started playing in 1993, these guys were like everything to me. Griffey was one of those guys who would play hard. He’d catch the ball and hit the wall. That’s probably why you see me hit the wall all the time and have no fear because Griffey had no fear. Griffey broke his wrist one time running into the wall.
Q: Have you injured yourself hitting the wall?
A: Man, I’ve been knocked out. I’ve had concussions. I’ve had dislocated shoulders. Whiplash. I’m pretty sure it was whiplash, but I still played the next day. Even after hitting the wall, I still go out and play. I don’t take the day off. I just take the time off that I’m knocked out. It’s a good nap. The nap rejuvenates the body. When I get knocked out and someone wakes me up, it feels good.
Q: You’re one of the highest paid players in baseball this year, does that weigh on you?
A: You know what I have to say about that? It’s about time!
For the rest of our interview with Torii, check out “Big Time” in the May issue of M&F, on newsstands April 7.