DETROIT All that Torii Hunter has accomplished on a baseball field pales to what he has done as a father. Thats because the odds were stacked so greatly against him ever being a good parent.
His own father, Theotis, was absent from his rearing and has battled drug addiction his entire adult life. Hes caused his son plenty of disappointment and a sense of abandonment, but Torii has worked at building a relationship with his father and becoming the parent to him.
Then, as a teenager playing in the low minors for the Minnesota Twins, Hunter fathered three sons with three different women in a span of nine months in 1994 and 1995.
I had kids out of wedlock, Hunter said, but I stepped up...I was young myself when I had them. I was young and I was scared. And I grew to be a man raising them. I was dedicated to being there for them. Raise them the right way, and they wont depart from it.
He was paraphrasing a verse from the Bible, Proverbs 22:6: Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it.
Hunter smiled when the words were repeated, saying, Thats my favorite verse.
There have been numerous challenges along the way, but Hunter got those three sons to manhood despite spending nearly half the year on the road as a standout major leaguer. He has accumulated 299 home runs, 2,052 hits, nine Gold Gloves and four All-Star Game selections.
This year, he received his Fathers Day present two weeks early on May 31. Hunter took time away from the team to watch his sons -- Money, Torii Jr. and Darius -- walk across the stage to collect their diplomas at Prosper (Texas) High in green caps and gowns with their college logos pasted atop the mortarboards.
All three have football scholarships. Torii Jr. (Notre Dame) and Darius McClintock-Hunter (Southeastern Louisiana) are slot receivers and Money (Arkansas State) is a safety.
It was something I will never forget, said Hunter. It was so cool to watch those guys walk up there and hear the name of their colleges announced.
I did my job and I did a good job with those boys. They each made their own way and are going to college as good young men. I did not want them to be spoiled rich kids. I told them, You have to make your own way. And each of them has.
Just how did Hunter, now 37, do it?
How did he create a happy ending to the childhood years of three sons who ended up going to high school and playing football together while bonding and prospering in a town aptly named for the Hunters?
It was Jesus Christ, Torii said. It was studying His word on how to be a godly man. I read and I studied the Bible. And my pastor, James Hutchins, has been the role model around me. He was my life coach.
Hunter and his wife of 17 years, Katrina, attend Hutchins New Life Community Church in Frisco, not far from their home in an affluent north Dallas suburb. His mother Shirley, took Torii and his six siblings to the Indiana Street Baptist Church in Pine Bluff, Ark. She planted the seed that caused his faith to blossom, and would give him the direction necessary to be a father to each of his sons.
Katrina gave birth to Torii Jr., and then welcomed Money (born Monshadrik) and Darius into their home.
I got custody of Money when he was 4, Hunter said. His mom named him Monshadrik. We did not like it and he did not like it, and so we came up with Money. It was not the best situation with his mom. Before high school, it was a lot of his moms ways, negative ways. He would quit on things. But in ninth or 10th grade, he grew up and it just clicked for him. I think he watched Torii and saw how hard he worked to succeed. Money became a 3.0 or 3.5 (grade-point average) student.
Struggle is what solves problems. The struggle will solve the problem. He overcame his failures, and made himself into the person, player and student he is today. That is what makes me proudest about Money.
Darius lived in Pine Bluff and then Grand Blanc, near Flint, until high school.
Darius and I would hang out whenever I came to Detroit with the Twins and Angels, Hunter said. I wanted to be with him all the time. And Darius and his mother moved to Texas to begin high school. We needed to grow and be in each others lives. I convinced his mother that he needed his dad, and I helped move them to the area. He stays with me when Im home, and goes back with his mom when Im not. His dad was providing for him, but he still didnt have that male in his life. Now he understands; he gets it.
Hunter said he went through by far his toughest challenge in life last May, when Darius and four other Prosper High students were arrested on sexual assault charges. However, the charges against Darius were dropped in February, and Darius filed a law suit in April for up to 40 million in damages.
False accusations can destroy a kids life, Hunter said. Sexual assault this is not that case. I told him to go through this and keep his head up, but he cried every day. It hurt so deep.
Hunter took a two-week break from the Angels last May to be there for Darius every minute of every day.
During those difficult days, Hunter said, Ive sacrificed a lot for baseball, but Im not sacrificing my family. I love them more than baseball, and I love this game.
Hes a father first; a ballplayer second.
But Darius is going to be able to help somebody through something tough one day because of this, Hunter said. What Im proudest of him for is overcoming something that most of us will not go through in our lifetimes.
Torii Jr. has a 4.0 GPA and a scholarship to Notre Dame, where he also will play center field. The Detroit Tigers drafted him in the 36th round, and Torii Sr. said his son is considering the possibility of signing. Torii Sr. thinks Torii Jr. wouldve been taken much higher had he not broken his left leg Jan. 1 at a practice for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, and missed playing his senior season.
Torii makes me proud because he is very mature and very intelligent, Hunter said. Ive always felt like he listened to me.
And all my sons are people persons. That makes me very proud, too.
They might get him something special this Fathers Day, but they will have trouble topping what theyve already given him.
It was the coloring and painting they did as kids on the Worlds Greatest Dad cards I put on the refrigerator with magnets, Hunter said. Thats the greatest gift in the world to me.
The story of Torii Hunter and his sons is not an easy one to tell. There were topics to bridge that many men wouldve refused to be open about. So, I thanked him for sharing his special story with me.
I wanted to do it, Hunter said. There are so many African-American single-parent homes, and that needs to change. You can look up the numbers.
According to a U.S. Census Bureau survey in 2011, the number of single-parent African-American homes in the U.S. has risen from 22 percent to 53 percent since 1960.
Men are lost in too many of our homes, Hunter said. Women are trying to be the head of the house and the only parent. And thats just not right. Children need both their parents.
His story is living proof of what a difference a father can make.