Hunter fosters inner-city kids' national tourney

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 27, 2007 - 10:04 PM

Teams from a number of cities are playing in Pennsylvania thanks to contributions from big-leaguers.

It's been a special holiday weekend for Torii Hunter, hearing reports from the Little League Urban Initiative Jamboree in Williamsport, Pa.

Through the Torii Hunter Project, the Twins outfielder helped raise money for 14 inner-city teams from across the country to play ball at the historic site of the Little League World Series.

Dusty Baker spoke to the 14 teams this year. Last year, in the first year Hunter took up the cause, 10 teams participated. "It's a stepping stone," he said. "We wanted to get it televised, but we couldn't."

Hunter received donations from a group of major leaguers including Ken Griffey Jr., Gary Sheffield, Dontrelle Willis, Jacque Jones, LaTroy Hawkins, Shannon Stewart and Rondell White.

Asked if the Twins made a donation, Hunter said no, and this seemed to touch a nerve.

"I'm disappointed," he said. "I kept waiting, and nothing happened."

Hunter, who is in the final year of a contract that has paid him $44 million over five years, has been a regular contributor to the Twins Community Fund.

He said when he negotiates his next contract, wherever that may be, he wants a promise from his team to donate money toward the Williamsport effort. Hunter often speaks out about the shrinking number of black players in baseball, and he believes this tournament can make a difference.

"I'm telling you, this can change a life because it changed mine," he said, recalling a baseball trip he made from his hometown of Pine Bluff, Ark., to Albuquerque, N.M., when he was 13.

Twins President Dave St. Peter said the team has spoken with Hunter about his project, and they have common goals.

This year, St. Peter said, the Twins Community Fund presented $50,000 grants to both the Minneapolis and St. Paul parks and recreation departments to operate the Rookie League and RBI programs. With those grants, 7,000 inner-city children will play baseball for free this summer.

Hunter has been a part of the Twins' Rookie League program, which Kirby Puckett helped start in 1993.

There are no Minnesota teams in Williamsport this weekend, but there are teams from Tampa, Fla.; Portland, Ore.; Chicago; Houston; and Kansas City, Mo.

The Twins' focus is more local, but St. Peter said they are looking for ways to take those local efforts to the national stage, as Hunter has done.

"Any way we can support what Torii is doing, we're going to do it," St. Peter said. "He's filled a leadership void that I think is needed throughout this game. Kudos to Torii and everybody else that participated from a player standpoint throughout the game."

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