09/28/09 1:00 AM ET
Hunter humbled by off-the-field honor
Halos star has special place for Branch Rickey Award
By Rhett Bollinger / MLB.com
But Hunter has a special spot reserved for his latest piece of hardware -- the Branch Rickey Award -- because it's not about what's accomplished on the field.Instead, the award is given annually to a baseball figure for humanitarian and community contributions off the field and is also based on the Rotary International's motto: "Service Above Self." And because of that special meaning, Hunter feels it has much more personal value than the other awards he's won during his illustrious career. "I think it's better because it's outside of baseball," Hunter said. "It's life. None of it's for publicity. I do it because I want to do it." Hunter, who grew up in a rough neighborhood in Pine Bluff, Ark., was also honored by the award because of what Rickey brought to baseball when he signed Jackie Robinson to break baseball's color barrier. "Branch Rickey was an important part of Major League Baseball as he took a chance and stepped out and did something great," Hunter said. "He stepped out on faith. He's just as important as Jackie Robinson. So I'm definitely honored to get that award. It's something I can show my grandkids some day." Hunter is no stranger to off-the-field awards, as he also was named the 2007 Marvin Miller Man of the Year, which goes annually to a player whose on-field and off-field acts inspire others. And he's also the Angels' nominee for the 2009 Roberto Clemente Award, which honors the player that "best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team." But as Hunter noted, he doesn't do the charity work for the sake of publicity or for winning awards. "I don't do it to get recognized," Hunter said. "I do it to feel good. I do all of it out of the kindness of my heart. But it's always nice to be recognized so that people can see it and go out and do it, too." Hunter has been one of baseball's most active players in the community with the Torii Hunter Project Educational Initiative, which provides college scholarships and character development for students in Anaheim, Pine Bluff, Las Vegas and Minneapolis. He also works with the Andre Agassi College Preparatory in Las Vegas with a plan to offer 100 scholarships to students every four years as part of a program called "Hunter's 100." The three-time All-Star has also done plenty of work with youth baseball around the country, including building a Torii Hunter Field near Anaheim in Placentia, Calif. "I've been blessed to make money and to be a public figure so the kids look up to guys like myself," Hunter said. "And I realize that, because if I were a kid and met Ken Griffey Jr. or someone like that, I'd go crazy. So I put myself in a kid's situation." Hunter said his giving personality came from his grandmother and his mother, who both helped raise him. "My mom always has a smile on her face and talks to everyone in the community," Hunter said. "Everyone knows my mom and they love her. She's a third-grade teacher right now. Everyone comes back to talk to her." Hunter said his role with his charity programs sometimes reminds him of his mother's role in the community as a teacher because of the ability to shape the lives of young people. And there's nothing better than one of those beneficiaries coming back with a success story of their own. "It's like being a teacher sometimes," Hunter said. "It's like a student coming back and telling you that they're a doctor or a lawyer. You're proud because you helped this kid along the way."
Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.