If you walk past the manmade pond stocked with Florida bass, past the personal batting cage and basketball court, and into Torii Hunter’s two-year-old, 19,000-square-foot dream home in Texas, you’ll find his sanctuary-and his occasional prison. Tucked into the well-equipped exercise room-between the weights and machines-is an oxygen chamber, a place that Hunter routinely goes to rejuvenate his body following one of his intense workouts. Usually he stays in the chamber for about an hour. Usually.
“If my wife is pretty pissed off at me, she’ll leave me in there for two hours,” Hunter says. “See, she’s the one who comes to get me when I’m supposed to get out. I’ll be reading a book or playing my PSP or sleeping. But if she’s mad at me about something, she’ll just leave me in there and tell me after, ‘You’ve got to think about what you did!'” The chamber, which cost about $20,000, is said to help reduce muscle swelling and recovery time. It’s only a small part of the Los Angeles Angels outfielder’s fitness regimen, but perhaps the most necessary.
Known as one of the game’s best all-around players, Hunter, after 11 seasons with the Minnesota Twins, is in his first year with the Angels, who signed him to a fi ls are getting a player who hits for power, has great speed, and is one of baseball’s top defensive players (seven consecutive Gold Gloves). To do all those feats well, Hunter, 32, must monitor his body. He can’t get overly bulky (or risk sacrificing his nimbleness) or too thin (and watch his home run numbers plummet; he averaged about 25 over the last seven seasons).
That’s why in the weeks before the start of spring training Hunter focused on increasing core strength, utilizing Swiss balls. “The physio ball is definitely my friend,” Hunter says. “It’s a big part in everything I do with my core. I get a 45-pound weight and lay back with my arms out in front of me and crunch it without moving the physio ball. Keep your hips up the whole time. Get stabilization. If you’re strong in the midsection, that means you’re stable; you’re stronger than a guy who just lifts weights.”
Hunter has worked with his trainer, Jason Maresh, for about seven years, and credits the Dallas-based workout guru for teaching him something incredibly basic—the correct way to run—that helped transform his career. Hunter is a highlight show mainstay because of his in-the-gap catches on balls that would be out of reach for most players. Yet the truth, Hunter says, is that before he met Maresh he would never have been able to reach most of those balls because his running stride was completely disjointed. “I would touch the ground and [my foot] would stay on the ground for a long time,” he says. “[Maresh] taught me to dig in and shoot right back up with the footwork. I don’t stay on the ground too long, but it’s a powerful stroke.”
His new stride, Hunter says, is like the piston in a car’sengine: up and down, without any wasted motion at the bottom of the move. “You know how kickboxers knee their opponent?” Hunter asks. “That’s how I have to run. If I look at the film from ’98 or ’99 before I met him, I had a long stride, a long butt-kick. Now it’s more hit the ground and come up.”
While his new form is useful during the season, it doesn’t help much when Hunter is enduring a “gasser,” one of the running drills he and his basic workout group—Yankees reliever LaTroy Hawkins and Twins outfielder Craig Monroe— endure regularly during the winter. The trio, who are sporadically joined by a variety of other athletes (including NFL players like Omar Stoutmire and Kevin Mathis), typically work out Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Friday is “rejuvenation day,” Hunter says. The weekend is for distance running or simply relaxing.
Hunter says there isn’t a set rotation of exercises on each day, so the players don’t know what Maresh will have them doing when they show up each morning. The only guarantee is that it will be an intense two to three hours, and that there won’t be much machine work; it’s all “Rocky Balboa stuff,” as Hunter says, with the players often using their own body weight as the tension force. “You might do box jumps, stepups, and pullups,” Hunter says. But the trickiest one has him in pushup position, feet on a physio ball, while using his hands to balance a board over asmall wheel. “At fi rst, the goal is to just balance it,” he says. “I can do pushups now, but it’s real tough. It takes focus.
“Frog jumps, with the ball between the legs, for 20 yards—those days are the ones I hate. We do [some] things with the free weights, but most of it is balance and stabilization.I feel like I’m stronger than some people who benchpress 400 pounds.”
During the season, Hunter tones down his routine so his body isn’t sapped before games, focusing on flexibility, stretching and cardio. He also makes sure to monitor his diet. Two years ago, he and his wife, Katrina, joined the Sari Mellman program . After having blood drawn and analyzed, the nutritionist tailored Hunter’s diet to weed out foods that caused inflammatory reactions in his body. “The food I can’t eat is tuna, rice and pineapples, cayenne peppers and peanut butter,” Hunter says. “And [also they] told me I could not eat my pregame meal—a turkey sandwich! It gives me mucus, apparently. Oh, and mustard—I put mustard on everything and it was bad for me.”
Now Hunter rarely just grabs a quick bite after a workout, choosing to wait until he gets home so he can eat an organic meal his wife has prepared, like steaks or other meats on the grill. His favorite: tuna steak with sea salt and basmati rice. “It’s good—my body doesn’t get too toxic anymore,” he says, laughing. It’s all part of the plan for Hunter, who believes that focusing on his body is what has kept him in the upper echelon of major leaguers for so many years. Everything matters: the workout routine, the food and those trips into the oxygen chamber. Just for an hour, sometimes more.