LITTLE ROCK — When Pine Bluff native Torii Hunter was a little boy, his mom gave him $20 to spend on food for himself for the week. But when he was outside a McDonald’s, he saw a homeless man who looked like he hadn’t eaten in a few days.
So without a second thought, Hunter gave all of his money to the man. It is that caring attitude that the Detroit Tigers outfielder still holds with him today.
Hunter, along with the help of Benton native and Philadelphia pitcher Cliff Lee, hosted a sold out “Homeruns and Heroes” fundraiser Thursday night at the Governor’s Mansion.
“Baseball has done a lot for me,” Hunter said during his speech. “… But it’s much bigger than that, though.”
Hunter reflected on the many life experiences playing baseball has allowed him to experience, including playing in Korea, Australia and Hawaii.
“I want to be able to help these young athletes have a chance to experience some of the same things I have,” Hunter said.
The fundraiser is one of the many events planned for this year in order to help improve the Torii Hunter Baseball and Softball Complex on the campus of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
“I am so excited about the fact that so many people in the state of Arkansas care,” said UAPB head coach Carlos James. “They take the time out and support our cause.
“I’m so happy that it brings a group of people together that normally wouldn’t be together.”
The funds raised from the event will help make it possible to finish construction for Phases II and III at the complex.
The final phase of construction will allow the baseball stadium to seat more than 500 fans, including comfortable box seats, a press box, VIP suites and a concession stand.
“I went by there (Friday) and most of the chair backs are already in,” James said. “I’m very excited about it, having that venue because when we host the University of Pittsburgh, we will have fans there able to sit down.”
Pittsburgh is scheduled for a three-game series with UAPB, beginning with a doubleheader on April 27.
UAPB has been picked to finish first in the SWAC West by Collegiate Baseball and by Perfect Game magzine.
“We have the SWAC player of the year coming back,” James said. “We have a good group of kids coming and we are looking forward to a great season.”
Last season, the Lions finished 21-32 overall and 13-11 in the conference. Texas Southern eliminated UAPB in the SWAC conference tournament.
“This event is going to give UAPB a good platform to build from,” James said.
Also in attendance on Thursday, was Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, who credited Hunter for pulling the fundraiser together.
“Arkansas is well represented in the major leagues,” Beebe said in his introduction.
Beebe said it takes a special kind of player to come into a clubhouse like Detroit — which is filled with MVP sluggers and Cy Young Award winners — and become a leader.
“Torii is that guy in the clubhouse who always has a smile on his face and is there to lift the spirits of those around him,” Beebe said.
The night also included a silent auction and a question-and-answer segment with both Hunter and Lee. Hunter also guaranteed he would match any donation made by the guests — up to $20,000.
“The one thing that the complex has done is having the name of Torii Hunter on your complex aids in recruiting,” James said. “We have kids from 15 states and four different countries because it is the Torii Hunter Baseball Complex and the name is identifiable.”