Hunter interviews astronaut in space

ANAHEIM, Calif. —Torii Hunter has made his share of long-distance calls, but nothing like the one he took part in Friday afternoon at Angel Stadium.

The Angels outfielder spent about 15 minutes on a video hookup with astronaut Joe Acaba, an Anaheim native and Angels fan currently on a four-month mission at the International Space Station as part of a team conducting a variety of experiments.

NASA arranged the call after Hunter met Acaba’s sister earlier this season before a game. Hunter sat on the field near the dugout and used a monitor to see Acaba, who was wearing an Angels T-shirt.

“Man, that was awesome,” Hunter said afterward. “My mom used to always joke with us when we were kids, and when she didn’t understand what we were talking about or where we coming from, she’d say, ‘Why are you always talking like the man on the moon?’

“Well, Mom, I just talked to a man that’s close to the moon.”

Hunter said he solicited questions for Acaba from his Twitter followers, among them:

“Can you see Mark Trumbo’s home runs from space?”

“Have you seen ET? Have you seen any alien life forms?”

“Can you see the Big A?”

Hunter didn’t just get questions from fans. Oakland A’s pitcher Brandon McCarthy, a prolific Twitter user, suggested that Hunter query Acaba about how astronauts use the restroom facilities: “space poop man. Sure it’s immature but don’t act like it’s not fascinating.”

So Hunter did, with a sheepish grin.

“It sounds immature,” he said, “but I see you floating, and there’s pretty much no gravity, so when you have to use the restroom, where does it go? Does it float?”

(We won’t give away the answer, but Hunter said later, “He just said for all the waste and stuff like that, they actually have ways of getting rid of it. He didn’t want to tell me.”)

Acaba, 45, attended Esperanza High in Anaheim and has been a mission specialist with NASA since 2004. He and two Russian cosmonauts launched aboard a Soyuz spacecraft from Kazakhstan in May to join three others on Expedition 31. The crew is examining how the human body and various materials react to being in the weightless environment of space.

Acaba, who previously visited the space station in 2009, is scheduled to return home in mid-September. Hunter invited him to visit the clubhouse and said he could expect to see the Angels at or near the top of the American League West when he returns.

“The way we’re playing right now, I’m definitely thinking we’re going to be in the playoffs,” Hunter said. “When you get back, we’re gong to be in there.”

Like most kids, Hunter said he dreamed of being an astronaut. He never made it, but he said Friday’s call might help young viewers realize that anything is possible.

“I thought it was a far-fetched dream,” he said. “Just to talk to somebody that really went through it, and he’s in space actually floating — when kids see that, they’re going to say, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’ There’s a baseball player there too and we’re talking with each other, so there’s two big dreams that kids can fulfill.”

After the call ended, Hunter was still smiling.

“This is great,” he said. “I’ve gotta pinch myself just to see if it’s real.”