More than a mentor, Torii a Clemente nominee

More than a mentor, Torii a Clemente nominee

ANAHEIM -- Now that he's a right fielder, having moved from center late last season to accommodate the arrival of Peter Bourjos, the Angels' Torii Hunter feels an even closer kinship to the late, great Roberto Clemente.

"Sometimes I'll make a strong throw," said Hunter, a nine-time Rawlings American League Gold Glove Award winner, "and I'll think, 'Clemente used to do this.'

"Roberto Clemente was one of the greatest of all time. I've been lucky to have been nominated for the award in his name a number of times. It's one of the best honors a player can receive."

Hunter is the Angels' 2011 nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, presented annually in the Hall of Famer's name for humanitarian contributions. His teammates will tell you there could be no better candidate than Hunter in their sport.

"Torii could run for mayor here," said Vernon Wells, a multiple Clemente Award nominee and team winner during his days in Toronto. "He takes the time for anyone and everyone and is genuinely involved in every conversation.

"The thing with Torii is that when you come from where he grew up [in Pine Bluff, Ark.], you have a very real perspective on the challenges involved. A lot of the kids he can help now, he feels for them with every fiber of his being. He knows the hardships that go with living in certain areas."

Hunter rose from difficult circumstances in his hometown to become a major player on and off the field. He has used those early life experiences to inspire young players throughout the game, such as young Angels outfielder Jeremy Moore.

"We have similar backgrounds," Moore said. "Torii took a personal interest in me and has taken me into his home, taken me to a Super Bowl, showed me things I never could have imagined.

"He came to [Class A Advanced] Rancho Cucamonga in 2009 on a rehab assignment and changed my career around. I was just kind of drifting, without much direction. He made me realize what I was capable of doing. He gave me real hope -- and the direction I'd been lacking. He means the world to me."

Wells, who spends his offseasons near Hunter in the Dallas area, has taken part in considerable charity work with Hunter over the years.

"We're put in a position to make an imprint on a lot of lives off the field, whether it's with money, our name, whatever forum we have as players to change lives," Wells said. "The good thing is the number is growing of players going out and doing things -- and Torii has always been at the forefront."

All 30 nominees have immersed themselves in the type of humanitarian and community efforts that distinguished Clemente, a life that ended at age 38 on New Year's Eve 1972, when the plane he was using to deliver aid to Nicaraguan earthquake victims crashed.

Fans will once again have the opportunity to participate in the selection of the national winner. They can cast votes for any of the 30 club nominees through Oct. 9.

The fan-ballot winner will be tallied as one vote among those cast by a special selection panel of baseball dignitaries and media members. The panel includes Commissioner Bud Selig and Vera Clemente, widow of the Hall of Fame right fielder.

Voting fans will also be automatically registered for a chance to win a trip for four to the 2011 World Series to see the national winner presented with the Clemente Award.

Hunter has been active in the community throughout his career, with the Twins and the Angels.

His primary charitable work is his own "Torri Hunter Project," founded in January 2006. It is a comprehensive, long-term effort to impact youth in need in various parts of the United States. The project has four areas of focus related to youth: sports, community, education and wellness.

Hunter and his wife, Katrina, have contributed more than $1 million to the project and have formed partnerships to fund efforts in the Torii Hunter Project. These efforts include youth athletic facilities in Southern California and Pine Bluff, assistance for children in need, homeless families, children with terminal illnesses and other community-based and wellness support.

In Las Vegas in 2008, alongside tennis great Andre Agassi, Hunter unveiled the "Heart of a Champion" program designed to assist the development of more than 50,000 middle- and junior-high-school students in Anaheim, Minneapolis and Pine Bluff. The program also provides college scholarships to 100 students from Anaheim, Pine Bluff and Las Vegas over the next four years.

Hunter has received the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award presented by the MLB Players Association and MLB's prestigious Branch Rickey Award for his tireless efforts off the field.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.