Torii Hunter was blindsided by the news his teenage son had been arrested. On the flight back home to Texas two weeks ago, he went through a litany of emotions: confusion, guilt, fear.
The Los Angeles Angels’ right fielder and clubhouse leader had to be a dad, shelving his high-paying job on the West Coast for more important duties. He’s ready to return to baseball, but only because he’s confident his son will be all right.
”I’ve sacrificed a lot for baseball, but I’m not sacrificing my family,” Hunter said. ”I love them more than baseball, and I love this game.”
Hunter rejoined the Los Angeles Angels on Monday after a 14-game absence. The veteran outfielder didn’t come off the Angels’ restricted list before they opened a three-game series with the New York Yankees, but Hunter thinks he’ll be ready to play soon.
Hunter left the Angels on May 14, a few hours after 17-year-old Darius McClinton-Hunter was arrested in a sexual assault case in Prosper, Texas, the upscale Dallas suburb where the Hunter family lives.
Hunter is a long-distance father for most of the year. His wife stays with their three teenage sons, Darius, Torii Jr., and Monshadrik ”Money” Hunter, who are finishing their junior years at Prosper High. All three are expected to be Division I football prospects.
On that flight home, Hunter wondered about his own culpability in his son’s trouble. He has tried to be an attentive father with a disciplinarian streak, saying he doesn’t hesitate to ”whoop” his kids, but just isn’t around them for much of the year.
”I thought, man, I wish I could have been here, not just four months (in the winter),” Hunter said. ”I wish I could be there 12 months and be in their lives, and none of this would happen, and this and that. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know the stories, anything like that. It took me a couple of days to get the story. Once we got the truth to come out, I felt better about it.”
Although Hunter tried to restrain himself from discussing the legal aspects of his son’s case while sitting in the Angels’ dugout, the loquacious outfielder couldn’t resist declaring that much about the police’s investigation doesn’t add up. For example, Prosper police said its five arrests followed a monthlong investigation, but Hunter claims the alleged assault happened only a week before his son’s detainment.
”Can’t really talk about much,” Hunter said. ”I’m not a no-commenter. You know I want to tell you everything, but I can’t do it. I’ve got to let the justice system play its part, and let my attorneys do what they have to do, and hopefully this thing gets dropped, but we’re ready to go to court no matter what.
”I don’t wish this on any father out there,” he added. ”I know a lot of fathers have been through it, but I don’t wish this on anybody, to see your son go through this. All the embarrassment, all the lies that are out there — don’t always believe what you read, because it’s not even close. But it’s a lot better.”
Hunter spent the last two weeks with his family, making time almost every day to watch the Angels on television. Los Angeles is 9-5 without Hunter, climbing out of last place heading into a key homestand against the Yankees and the AL West-leading Texas Rangers.
The Angels didn’t hesitate to allow Hunter to take an indefinite leave. General manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Mike Scioscia checked in with the veteran almost daily during his absence.
”That decision wasn’t tough at all,” Scioscia said. ”We all love this game and understand the sense of duty you have to this game, but there’s things you have to handle with your family.”
Even when outfielders Vernon Wells and Ryan Langerhans got hurt during Hunter’s absence, the Angels didn’t rush him back. Hunter thought about rushing himself when Langerhans ran into an outfield wall in San Diego, but his wife wouldn’t allow it.
Hunter took his son to the movies last weekend and was pleased to see Darius’ first smiles in nearly two weeks when they saw ”The Avengers.” McClinton-Hunter has been recruited as a receiver by several schools, and the elder Hunter said Utah and Texas Tech already have contacted the family to say they’re still interested in Darius.
Torii Hunter is prepared to return to Texas if his son’s case proceeds through the justice system, but he’s eager to get back to his game as well.
”They all seemed like they were a lot better,” Hunter said. ”My wife can handle the situation. My attorneys can handle the situation. My three boys, they’re very upbeat. We were talking a lot. Through all this stuff, my family and I, we got a little closer.”