Any way you slice it, Hunter a true leader

Angels' Hunter the definition of leader

ANAHEIM -- There is no "C" on the front of his Angels jersey, but that's a mere, unnecessary formality.

"We don't have an official captain," closer Brian Fuentes says, "but everyone knows who it is."

Fuentes looks to a corner of the clubhouse where a teammate is clearly in his natural habitat, surrounded by teammates collapsing in laughter.

Torii Hunter.

"I've never been around a guy like that," says Fuentes, flourishing in his first season with the Angels after 12 years in the Mariners and Rockies organizations. "In Seattle and Colorado, we never had one guy who was that much of an impact as a leader.

"He's a true professional in everything he does, the way he carries himself on and off the field. He earns a lot of respect from his peers, wherever he goes. It just seems like he does the right thing all the time -- and it's genuine.

"He's involved in so many things. I could never do that. He has a pretty heavy workload, being a great player and a great spokesman for the team, the game. His personality is so infectious. You talk to him for 20 minutes, and you feel like you can open up to the guy, like you've known him for years."

Hunter, in his second season with the Angels after making his professional mark in Minnesota, simply does what comes naturally, in all things, at all times.

He is told of something Magic Johnson, a leader for the ages, once said.

"I don't ever remember not being a leader," the Lakers' floor and dressing room leader said during his magical run through the 1980s. "I'm not a follower. Never have been, never will be."

Hunter nods approvingly.

"I definitely agree with Magic Johnson," Hunter says. "It's something you're born with; it's in you. I've known great players who weren't leaders. They led by example, but when they were going through hard times, they kept to themselves. I've always been the same no matter what I'm going through, good or bad.

"I think it's important to show your teammates that even when you're struggling, you're still who you are and shouldn't change. I want younger guys to know I've been through all their struggles. Just keep working, keep after it, and you'll be all right.

"I'm always ready to joke around, let guys know it's cool to be loose. But when it's game time, it's time to go. I think they know that."

Oh, they do.

"Torii's meant so much to me, being around him on a daily basis," says second baseman Howard Kendrick, whose early-season struggles sent him down to Triple-A Salt Lake for some fine-tuning. "Torii told me he'd been there, that I was a young guy and like all young guys, I'm going to struggle sometimes.

"He told me to keep my attitude right, to go down and get myself straight. I'd been pressing, and it took me out of my game for a while. His advice is something I lean on every day. He's a great teammate, one of the best people you'll ever meet."

Ron Roenicke, the Angels' bench coach, has been around the game for more than three decades. He's seen dozens, hundreds of players. But none like Torii Hunter.

"He's just unique," says Roenicke, whose duties include managing the outfield. "He's the whole package. You get everything with Torii, every day. First, the effort he puts into the game gives him credibility. He's a great player, which also helps. He's a take-charge guy. He's very vocal -- and we haven't had a lot of guys like that around here.

"He cares about the other guys -- all of them. He cares about the batboys, how they're doing. He's got a personality that is giving to everybody.

"I know he's a superstar, but he's never forgotten his roots, what he went through to get here. He's very generous. I didn't know him very well when he got here [after the 2007 season as a free agent], but I can't tell you how he's impressed me. I know one thing: I don't have to worry about the outfield with Torii out there. He studies everything and always knows how to position himself and the other outfielders. There's a reason for everything he does."

Manager Mike Scioscia puts it in simple terms.

"Torii's a great leader," Scioscia says. "He's been a unifying force from the day he arrived. He's a difference-maker on and off the field. Torii is as good as it gets."

Hunter's leadership isn't confined to his baseball life. The Torii Hunter Project has impacted countless lives with his generous contributions to a variety of causes over the years.

His primary focus is brightening the lives of inner-city youth, having personally endured the indignities and tribulations of the hardest and harshest of realities growing up in Pine Bluff, Ark., surrounded by poverty, gangs, drugs -- the whole nine yards of minefields.

What he's proudest of are his quiet, unpublicized ventures. When it became public this spring that he'd financed the revival of the Compton Little League in an impoverished Los Angeles-area community, Hunter wasn't happy.

"That wasn't supposed to get out," he said. "I don't do these things for the publicity. I do things because it's the right thing to do -- and I'm committed to helping out young people who really need someone to show they care."

When he was dispatched to high Class A Rancho Cucamonga recently in his rehab from a right adductor muscle strain that cost him five weeks -- he was in the midst of an MVP-level season when shelved -- Hunter typically was a Pied Piper with the youthful athletes hanging on his every colorful word.

"I worked with some of the outfielders and pitchers, other position players, too," Hunter said. "I talked to them about the game, different situations, what it takes to get to the Major Leagues. I explained how you have to fail to succeed in this game. I told them what I did to get out of the rough times and move forward. And they listen.

"That's what's great. I'm a leader to those guys because of my experience. If I didn't talk to them, share some things, what am I? You go through experiences in life, you should be able to help the next guy. You should want to help that person out. I try to share everything I've learned and pass it along."

As a young player in the Twins' system, Hunter was influenced by such veterans as the late Kirby Puckett, Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield. He learned through observation and evaluating their words, incorporating what fit into his life and game plans.

Jason Bartlett, now starring for the Rays, was a young shortstop in Minnesota when Hunter was the man, racking up Rawlings Gold Gloves -- it's eight and counting -- and driving in clutch runs and taking extra bases, playing the total game.

"I think it's just his personality," Bartlett says when asked about Hunter's leadership. "He's the type of guy who backs up what he says. He leads a lot by example, and he gets a lot of respect.

"He plays hard, high energy, and he plays the way other people wish they played."

How broad is Hunter's appeal in the fraternity of ballplayers? Consider the words of the other center fielder in Los Angeles.

"Torii's my best friend," the Dodgers' Matt Kemp says. "He's always there, whenever I need some advice, and he's as real as it gets. He's a great role model for the other players. You couldn't ask for a better friend."

Or a better leader.

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