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Proud dad Torii credits wife more than ever

With kids off to college, Tigers outfielder reflects on Katrina's role in household

DETROIT -- Torii Hunter has been reaching milestones for the last several years. This is one his wife, Katrina, can celebrate: They're just a few weeks away from becoming empty-nesters.

After nearly two decades of sacrificing offseason trips, driving kids from school to practices to games, and feeding growing athletes, the Hunters are about to send their sons off to college. Once they graduate next month, Torii said, they'll be going to school early in the summer.

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That means for the first time in his Major League career, Torii and his wife will be on their own. And their journey as a couple will enter a new chapter.

"We had our ups and downs. She hung in there. She didn't just give up," Torii Hunter said. "And to this day, we're awesome. Now, for the first time, my kids are going to college, June 15 they're going to summer school, they'll all be in college. They're gone. I don't know what the heck to do.

"We're going to be empty-nesters at 37 years old, and so what are we going to do?"

They'll be college parents, going to see their kids' games. They'll be offseason travelers, taking some of the trips they couldn't enjoy for years. At the end of Torii's big league career, they'll have the freedom to do the kind of things many players do at the start, and Torii plans on spoiling his wife.

As Mother's Day approaches, he wants to give her credit for all she has done. After all those years when she was holding down the household while he was on the road during baseball season, it's the least he can do.

"She did a great job," Torii said. "She had these kids getting straight A's. She had these kids on time. She's done all these little things that makes them young men, and I really appreciate her and I thank God for her. She lifts me up. She lifts the kids up. She's a helper. She's a completer."

It wasn't easy, especially at the start. They began dating in high school, then they were apart while she was in college and he was in the Minor Leagues before marrying 17 years ago. It didn't get easier after they were married and moved back home, or after she gave birth to Torii Jr.

Hunter had a six-figure bonus as a first-round pick of the Minnesota Twins a few years earlier, but they were still trying to save money for a house in a nice area.

"We were staying with her parents," he said. "We were sleeping in an extra room just to save money, even my first two years in the big leagues. We saved the money and we had enough money to move [to Texas] and live in 2000. We moved to Texas and Torii started school there and we put him in a great school."

They made Texas their home, not just for Torii Jr., but for Monshadrik, a son from outside of marriage. A third son, Darius McClinton-Hunter, eventually moved to Texas with his mother a few years ago.

Katrina was the heart of the Hunter home. As someone who grew up with his mother as the center of the household, and a father who wasn't around all the time, Torii Sr. could appreciate what she meant.

"My mom, when I was coming up, she would always say, 'This is not the family you should have.' But I never predicted I'd be playing Major League Baseball," he said. "It was my dream and everything, but you just don't know if it's going to come true or not. Now it's true, and I'm playing Major League Baseball, and I'm traveling, and it's not because of drugs or I'm absent in his life. I'm missing because I'm working.

"So my wife is like my mom. My mom was like the woman and the mama and the daddy. She was the enforcer. She did all those things, and she showed us love at the same time. And it was all boys, no girls."

At some point, the kids grew old enough to read the schedule and figure out when dad would be home so they could be on their best behavior. At another point, mom learned the easier answer to no was to tell the kids to ask their father.

"My wife is with them eight months," Torii continued. "She's traveling for basketball, football, baseball. And there's two kids in the household with me, so she's had to take one 40 miles this way and then one an hour that way. And nobody really helped her. She was by herself.

"At one point she was stressed out. She had to go four innings over here, then drive 30 minutes and try to catch Money's game so he could see her in the stands for three innings. She tried to appease both of those kids, and she did a really good job. She had to stay up with Money all night with the homework, Torii with the homework, and balance the two out. She did an awesome job."

The job is nearly complete. Torii Jr. is headed to play football at Notre Dame, where Torii and Katrina plan on making the trip for several Saturdays. Monshadrik just signed a letter of intent to play football at Arkansas State. Darius McClinton-Hunter has committed to play at Southeastern Louisiana.

At some point, the Hunters will have to map out a schedule on which games they can attend each weekend. A postseason run from the Tigers, of course, could keep Torii Sr. busy in October. The toughest part, however, is just about complete.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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