Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter idolized Cubs slugger Andre Dawson growing up. (Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News)
Detroit — Torii Hunter knows that somewhere, a young African-American boy is watching his every move — on and off the baseball field.
He knows because he was that young kid. glued in front of the television watching Cubs outfielder Andre Dawson. Hunter studied Dawson closely and copied everything, from his batting stance to his attitude.
And just like Dawson helped turn Hunter from a young quarterback/running back into a baseball player, Hunter is trying to make his presence felt with other young African-American boys.
It’s one reason he’s lending his name to Willie Horton’s 13th annual Batting for Kids event that benefits Don Bosco Hall and introduces inner-city youth to baseball.
“I was a big football guy and all I cared about was Walter Payton and Eric Dickerson,” said Hunter who was 12 years old in 1987 when he saw some of Dawson’s 49 home runs and 137 RBIs. “That is who I wanted to be. My granddad sat me down in front of that TV and I saw another African-American (Dawson) doing great things. So I took his batting stance and the way he throws and imitated him.”
On Friday, children from Don Bosco will participate in running, throwing and catching contests at Comerica Park. On Sept 9, winners receive medals from Horton during a pregame ceremony before the Royals play the Tigers.
Like father, like sons
Hunter’s athletic success has rubbed off on his sons — Monshadrik, Darius and Torii Jr.
But instead of the three following in Dad’s footsteps and playing baseball, all of them played or are playing football — Monshadrik is a sophomore defensive back at Arkansas State, Darius played at Southeastern Louisiana, and Torii Jr. is a redshirt freshman at Notre Dame.
Torii Jr. also plays baseball for the Fighting Irish.
“Texas is big in football and they got caught up in it,” said Torii Hunter Sr., who lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area during the offseason. “I would love for them to play baseball but they got to make their own way.”
The problem with baseball is there aren’t many African-American players for young kids to emulate.
According to the Major League Baseball, 8.3 percent of players on Opening Day roster this season were are African-American.
Horton and his son Daryl are trying to help change that with the event.
But until that happens, Hunter knows he’s a role model some kids will look up to and try to imitate.
“That is why I try to represent myself the right way, the game the right way, the African-American community, my city and my state,” he said. “I always know there is somebody watching.”