In December, during baseball's Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, Hunter announced a partnership with the Heart of a Champion Foundation to create the Torii Hunter Project Educational Initiative to provide college scholarships and character development for students in Anaheim, Calif., Pine Bluff, Ark., Las Vegas and Minneapolis.
When he announced his educational initiative, Hunter said his project was already working with Little League baseball to maintain and improve fields in urban areas. However, he said, "I wanted to go over and beyond that."
According to Hunter's Web site, www.toriihunterproject.com, he remembered his upbringing in Pine Bluff and vowed to help others have it easier.
"The way I grew up was pretty tough," Hunter said. "I vowed to myself that if I ever got the opportunity to help anybody that I was going to do it. That's one of the reasons why I'm so passionate about helping kids."
Hunter has contributed to the Andre Agassi College Preparatory in Las Vegas, along with the Yankees' Derek Jeter and the Cubs' Derrek Lee. Last year, he helped build a Torii Hunter Field for youth softball in Placentia, Calif. Hunter is a key figure in Major League Baseball's Breaking Barriers program, which honors the legacy of Jackie Robinson, and he is involved with Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
Each Major League club is asked to nominate a player, coach or executive for the Rickey Award. A 300-member national committee of sports media members, past award members, baseball executives and Rotary district governors select the winner.
Previous winners are Dave Winfield, Kirby Puckett, Ozzie Smith, Tony Gwynn, Brett Butler, Craig Biggio, Paul Molitor, Al Leiter, Todd Stottlemyre, Curt Schilling, Bobby Valentine, Roland Hemond, Jamie Moyer, Tommy Lasorda, John Smoltz, and Trevor Hoffman.
Hunter will receive a 24-inch bronze sculpture, "The Player," created by internationally prominent sculptor George Lundeen. A 13-foot bronze sculpture was dedicated in front of Coors Field in 2005, Rotary International's centennial year.
Tickets for the banquet are $200 per person and may be reserved by calling the Rotary Club of Denver office at 303-893-1919. Visit www.branchrickeyaward.org for more information.