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."