ANAHEIM, Calif. – Two weeks ago Torii Hunter's telephone rang, and it was bad news – horrifying news – about his oldest son.
Darius, 17, had been arrested in Texas, accused of sexual assault. The details, as they were told to Torii, were too ugly to comprehend.
This was the kid he'd moved from Michigan to Prosper, just north of Dallas, a couple years earlier. He'd wanted to watch Darius, borne of a previous relationship, become a man, and maybe help. Because he was holding down a job that meant heavy travel, Torii had missed enough as it was, and so had Darius, so maybe they'd grow up a little together.
Darius was gaining on that, too. He'd become a star football player at Prosper High, good enough to be thinking big: LSU, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas A&M and Arkansas, maybe. His grades were fine. His talent just might play.
Last week, Texas Tech and Utah said they were still in.
"Don't know about the others," Torii said.
Torii had seen plenty of bad kids along the way, maybe even strayed himself once in a while, but Darius, Darius was a good kid. When the family went to the Bahamas on vacation, Torii gave each of his three sons $100 and told them to go have fun, but make it last.
"My boys aren't spoiled," he said. "I make them earn everything they get."
A couple hours later, Darius was back, asking his dad for a few more dollars.
"What'd you do with the hundred bucks?" Torii demanded.
When Darius shrugged, one of his brothers came clean. "He gave fifty to some homeless guy."
It's the prism through which we choose to see our sons, of course. We want so desperately for them to grow up strong and accountable, for them to offer a hand to the weak. To be courageous and sympathetic and tough and warm-hearted.
There are few who live up to it entirely, but many more who try, and that's really what Torii expected of his boys, to try to be men when it's so much easier to leave the world to itself. He left the Angels for two weeks to go home and stand with his son, and cry with him, and guide him through whatever was coming. He returned convinced that Darius is a good kid, that whatever happened in that room with that girl was more innocent than it sounded in the newspapers. They have a tape, and his word, and the people in the room have their words, the girl hers', and the truth is in there somewhere.
While the Angels played on, Torii was fathering his boy. They played their 16th game without him Monday night and the truth is, Torii still isn't sure he should be here. It's just all so terrible – for the girl, for Darius, for everyone involved, for what they'll drag along with them from here.
Torii and players like him, they've chosen their course. They make their money and take their celebrity. But it can come at a cost, and that's the guilt that pulled at Torii on his flight to Dallas, and what kept him up late when he got there, and what pulled at him again when he returned to Anaheim for a baseball game. He's not alone in that, either.
Andy Pettitte once went home. Not because he believed he couldn't pitch anymore, but because of what was home – three sons and a daughter.
"Am I being enough of a father?" he'd asked himself.
After a year, satisfied, he decided, "You know what? These are good young boys."
With a smile, he added, "My wife's doing a heckuva job."
We assign them a number and that's who they are.
Maybe it's the number on their backs, their ERA or batting average. Maybe it's the number of fantasy points they accumulated – or didn't – the night before. Their WAR or VORP or UZR.
We demand they be more human, more like us, then belittle them when they don't hit with runners in scoring position, or refuse to sign our scorecards. They're not men, but walking, talking OPS-bots.
But Torii Hunter, after years of playing along, couldn't anymore. He blew off the games and went home and put his arm around his son. And he kept putting his arm around his son until Darius would smile again, because that's what fathers do, or try, through the good stuff and the horrifying stuff.
He'd asked himself the question Pettitte had a thousand times – "Am I being enough of a father?" – and this time he would be. Not for a few months in the winter. Not for the weekends when his sons could get away. Not when the phone calls got through.
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Today. And tomorrow. And for weeks, if that's what it took.
Honestly, he said, he had to be talked into coming back. It's not over in Prosper, and it might not be for a while. There's no telling how it will end, no matter how hard Torii cares for how it will end. Go, his pastor and wife said. You have to go.
So, he'll play. He'll have fun, or try. And he'll hope he's done enough.
"I'm pretty sure a lot of athletes are out there doing the same thing," he said. "When the game's over, there it is, that problem, whatever you have. It's right there waiting for you."
You can't put a number on that.
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