Blue and Gold Illustrated

August 2022

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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52 AUGUST 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED IRISH IN THE PROS IRISH IN THE PROS BY PATRICK ENGEL T orii Hunter Jr., despite his best efforts, couldn't drown it out anymore. The toddler voice in the back- ground had turned from joy- ful babbling to brief wailing. Dad duty called. "I'm sorry," Hunter said with a chuckle, pausing mid- answer during a phone inter- view to provide momentary attention. Even on his off day, he can't escape the juggling act he car- ries out seven months a year as a minor league baseball player, husband and father. He's used to it by now, though, in season No. 5 of the grind he chose after a two- sport career as a Notre Dame wide receiver (2013-16) and outfielder (2015-16). Really, he enjoys it. Hunter, 27, is midway through his sixth year as an outfielder in the Los Angeles Angels' organization, currently playing for the Double-A Rocket City Trash Pandas in Madison, Ala. He has played 387 games at five minor league levels, from rookie ball to Triple-A. He might have surpassed 500 games by now if COVID-19 hadn't sideswiped the 2020 minor league season. He has lived in five towns and three time zones. He has played for multiple teams in each of the last four seasons. All the while, Hunter's family has grown. He and his wife, Selina, are the parents of a 4-year-old son (Tres) and 1-year-old daughter (Isabella). Their life has consisted of goodbyes and is built on the time spent between them. It in- volves a lot of hotels, moving trucks and unending faith. With their support and sacrifice at his back, Hunter is chasing a dream he has held since grade school: Make it to the major leagues. He tasted that life as a kid, wandering around clubhouses and dugouts with his dad, Torii Hunter Sr., an 18-year MLB outfielder. The chance to go for it came in 2016 when the Angels drafted him in the 23rd round despite a mere 12 at-bats in two college seasons. The hunger to achieve his goal remains insatiable, even as real- ity suggests the odds might be lowering. "I love the game, and I still enjoy be- ing around the guys," Hunter said. The game, though, hasn't loved him back quite as much. At least not yet. In 52 games between Double-A and Triple- A this season, he is hitting .236 with a .663 OPS. He has not hit above .260 in a full season since 2018 or posted a .700 OPS (on-base plus slugging percent- age) since 2017 (he did hit .327 over 13 games at High-A in 2018). He's not on top prospects lists. Maybe he's at the point where most players make it or don't, but if the chance is there, he won't turn it away. If it sounds like the definition of in- sanity, well, Hunter won't refute that. "You're always chasing the success, even though baseball is a game of failure," Hunter said. "But it's almost addicting, going out there every day, grinding and working your butt off just to go 1 for 4. "It's the grind and being around guys who are the same mindset. It's the ul- timate dream and ultimate goal in this whole thing. It's really what's keeping me going." There have been ups, to be sure. Hunter has knocked on the door at Triple-A the past two years. He hit .368 with 2 home runs in a six-game series for Rocket City from July 4-10. As of July 25, he was hitting .279 in July. He's on a playoff team for the first time since his debut pro sea- son in 2017. Rocket City won the Southern League North Division first-half title. Success helps the mood, of course. But when you're so singularly devoted to a goal for so long, simply still having a shot at it keeps you upbeat. "Growing up in it, you understand the struggle," Hunter said. And eventually, learn to appreciate the beauty in it. "That's what you're go- ing to miss when you're done playing ball — the grinding, the things you do off the field," Hunter said. "The com- mon struggles you go through as a pro- fessional baseball player, how you got through them together and the laughs you had. That's what you don't want to give up at the end of the day and what you'll miss most when it's over." Hunter has made too many sacrifices and missed too many weddings, birth- days and family reunions to make him turn his back on a dream now. Selina has put a modeling career on hold and trekked all over the country with the kids — sometimes to far-flung, anon- ymous towns — in support. He owes himself the commitment to take his chase as far as he can. And he's not the only one invested in the pursuit. "Not only is it important for me to make it for me," Hunter said, "but for everyone else who has sacrificed a lot for me to be in this position as well." CRAIG COUNSELL SETS BREWERS RECORD At the same time in June when Notre Dame baseball was basking in the up- set of No. 1 Tennessee and a spot in the College World Series, a former Fighting Hunter, who played wide receiver for the Notre Dame football team from 2013‑16, is in his sixth season as a minor league outfielder in the Los Angeles Angels' organization. PHOTO BY JAVIER SANCHEZ/ROCKET CITY TRASH PANDAS Torii Hunter Jr. Is Still Focused On His MLB Goal

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