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ANGELS FYI

Angels center fielder Torii Hunter vows to watch what he says to reporters

Dealing with fallout from his remarks about race and baseball in a USA Today article, he meets with team officials Thursday.

March 11, 2010|By Mike DiGiovanna

Reporting from Tempe, Ariz. — Torii Hunter is one of baseball's most accessible and quotable players, but the center fielder emerged from a lengthy closed-door meeting with Manager Mike Scioscia, General Manager Tony Reagins and team executive Tim Mead Thursday vowing to be more guarded with reporters and his choice of words.

"If it's not about baseball, I'm not going to talk about it," said Hunter, heavily criticized Wednesday for remarks in a USA Today article examining the declining percentage of African American players in the game. "I know what I am. Don't always believe what you read."

Hunter said his comments about dark-skinned players from the Dominican Republic being "imposters" because they are perceived by some as being African American were "distorted and taken out of context." He tried to set the record straight in a blog on the team's website.

"What troubles me most was the word ‘imposters' appearing in reference to Latin American players not being black players," Hunter said. "It was the wrong word choice, and it definitely doesn't accurately reflect how I feel and who I am.

"What I meant was they're not black players; they're Latin American players. There is a difference culturally. But on the field, we're all brothers."

Hunter spoke to Angels owner Arte Moreno and Commissioner Bud Selig Wednesday, and Thursday he spoke to several Latin American teammates, including Bobby Abreu and Erick Aybar.

"Torii talks to those guys every day," Scioscia said. "I don't anticipate any problems."

Abreu hadn't read the story, but when told of Hunter's quotes, the Venezuelan right fielder said, "If he said that, I'm sure he didn't mean it. He's a smart guy, so it must have been taken the wrong way. Torii is cool with the Latin players. He's cool with everybody."

Though his comments were assailed by some as racist and divisive, many came to the defense of Hunter, who has won numerous awards for community service and directs a large share of his charitable efforts to the development of baseball in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

"It's good to see people come to my defense," Hunter said. "They know me. But there are people out there who don't know me, and I would like them to get them to know me."

If Hunter is not as outspoken about off-the-field issues, it won't be because of any edict issued by Scioscia or the front office.

"Torii is as open a person as you're going to meet — that's part of what gives him strength, why people are drawn to him — and he speaks his mind," Scioscia said. "He's probably the most positive person I've been around in this game. …

"He's aware of and educated on the issues. Sometimes things are portrayed differently than what happened. It happens to all of us, and that's what we're dealing with here."

Relief effort

Scot Shields, who missed most of last season because of left knee surgery, will make his exhibition debut Friday, the right-hander's first game action since May 26, 2009.

It will come against the same Chicago White Sox team he faced in his last game, when he covered first base on a Jermaine Dye two-out grounder and barely made it back to the dugout, so intense was the pain in his knee.

"I got to the top step and told [pitching coach Mike Butcher] I'm done," said Shields, who threw a 20-pitch simulated inning on Wednesday. "Not like, I can't go out there for the next inning. I mean, I'm done."

Kevin Jepsen will need another simulated-game inning before pitching in a game early next week. Fernando Rodney, slowed by sore shins, will begin simulated-game innings this weekend.

Short hops

Hunter, who hasn't played since aggravating a groin injury last Friday, and second baseman Howie Kendrick, sidelined for three days because of a sore arm, are expected to play Friday.

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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