Friday afternoon's luncheon event in the Tiger Club at Comerica Park kicked off Negro Leagues weekend: an event made to recognize and celebrate players like Torii Hunter. Players who took game of baseball from a time when African Americans couldn’t even play in the Major Leagues to where it is today.
"These guys had dreams of playing in the Major Leagues one day and starting a league. And these guys were very talented…the Negro League players were…and these guys kind of paved the way," Hunter said.
On Sunday, Hunter will be formally presented with the Tigers' Willie Horton African American Legacy Award, but Friday's lunch was to celebrate him and every other player who has paved the way for young African American athletes. Hunter said it's an honor to be recognized for what he did off the field.
Willie Horton, Jake Wood and several former Negro Leagues players were in attendance. Current Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire was also there to share some thoughts on Hunter.
"He did a lot of work in the inner city…helping kids get uniforms and play the game and learn to play the game the right way," Gardenhire said.
There were also several baseball players there from Cass Tech and Detroit Country Day high schools.
Senior John Malcom reflected on he'll take away from what Hunter said Friday afternoon, "Just how he said baseball is life, life is baseball. That’s very true. The ups and downs of baseball…just like with life!"
Hunter said he recognizes his role as a mentor.
"I’ve been through a lot. I will always say wisdom has healed pain. And I’ve gained some wisdom along the way. Had a lot of failures and made some adjustments. And it’s my job to give it back to those guys. So when they see me here today and I speak to them it’s something that will stick with them and hopefully they go on to do great things," he said.
Hunter made it clear how special the game of baseball is to him. He shared the same sentiment about Detroit. "Best two years of my career here in Detroit. Never wanted to leave..."
Tigers GM Al Avila made it clear the feeling is mutual. "This is not tampering my any means…I know you have a contract. But instead of just a few days here at Comerica Park, we’d like you to spend a few years here with us two, so hopefully one of these days you come back for a long time," Avila said