BOSTON — Alejandra Ortega was standing on the field at Fenway Park two hours before last night's thrilling ninth-inning rally for the Red Sox, 50 feet from several major leaguers milling around the batting cage.
She might as well have been standing at her locker among her friends at Greater Lawrence Technical School.
At least that's how she felt after 30 minutes with Angels star outfielder Torii Hunter.
"I thought I was coming here to hear about baseball," said the 16-year-old Ortega. "And then, talking to Torii, he sounded like the kids I see in the hall at school. His stories are a lot like the stories I hear in school all the time."
Ortega was one of 15 members of the Lawrence Boys & Girls Club who met Hunter. The meeting was an auction item purchased at the Hot Stove Cool Music event in Boston a few weeks ago by Jim Pannos of Andover, who is on the board of governors of the Lawrence club.
ESPN's Peter Gammons, who sung and played the guitar at the event, which raised money for Theo Epstein's Foundation To Be Named Later, put together the auction item with Hunter.
The affable Hunter, who Gammons called "one of the nicest people in baseball," expected to talk a little baseball and maybe give a pep talk to the group about hard work.
The Lawrence teenagers wanted more.
"They were asking questions about my dad, and his problems with drugs," said Hunter in the Angels dugout afterward. "They wanted to know about my mom and how she struggled to raise five boys on a teacher's salary and keep us grounded. They wanted to know about how I grew up and the issues I faced. I'm cool with that. I have no problem sharing those experiences."
Hunter, a native of Pine Bluff, Ark., told the group about his dad, Theotis Hunter, who he said began taking heroin while in Vietnam, and for the last 30 years has continued to struggle with drug addiction.
"I hated it," said Hunter. "One day we're watching cartoons on the TV and the next day my dad takes the TV to the pawn shop to get money for his drugs. ... I think I was eight years old when I saw my father (snorting) cocaine on a table. I remember thinking, 'My dad is doing that same thing that guy on the 'Scarface' movie, Tony Montana, was doing. I didn't realize what he was doing right away.
"I probably saw too many things a kid shouldn't have seen," said Hunter. "I think a lot of these kids were like me."
Hunter's mother, Shirley, was a topic of discussion.
"How did she keep you boys under control?" asked Ortega.
"We were all scared of her," Hunter recalled. "If we were acting up, and we did, she gave us what we deserved. ... I really owe everything to my mom. She was the iron in our house. She made sure we went to church every Sunday and made sure we all believed. In our house we'd try to fake being sick for church. She'd say, 'That's OK. But you can't go outside and play the rest of the day.' " While Hunter was speaking, a surprise visitor put him in a headlock.
It was his former roommate with the Minnesota Twins, Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz.
"I have to tell my David Ortiz story," said Hunter to the group, with Ortiz standing next to him. "David was in the shower and I put peanut butter in his underwear. Everybody on the team knew.
"He comes out of the shower, dries off and puts on the underwear, and then puts on all his clothes as if everything was normal. It was as if he was used to that 'feeling.' We were all laughing. Then he took about five or six steps and realized it. He had to take his clothes off and shower again."
Ortiz, though, quickly reminded Hunter about "payback," which was a blob of peanut butter in Hunter's shoes.
"Torii was very, very mad," said the smiling Ortiz. "I may get you back again. You never know. You're in my town."
The Lawrence contingent got a bonus, when Hunter bid the group adieu for batting practice. The Hall of Famer Gammons held court for about 15 minutes, answering baseball questions, followed by another 10 minutes with Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, who co-founded the Foundation To Be Named Later with his twin brother, Paul.
"I cannot tell you what this means to these kids," said Manny Ayala, a director at the Lawrence Boys & Girls Club. "This is an education for the kids. Torii's stories were incredible. Theo told the kids how, after he graduated from law school, most of his friends went on to work for big firms. But he got a job as an intern for a baseball team because he said he wanted to do something he loved. That's a good lesson, too.
"And I loved talking to Peter Gammons. Nobody knows more about baseball than he does. We are very lucky."
The real star of the day, though, was Jim Pannos, who made it all happen.
"I've been going to the Hot Stove event for a few years and when I heard about the auction item for 15 kids to meet Torii Hunter, I immediately thought about the kids from the club," said Pannos. "I told Theo that this was worth 10 times more than I paid for it."
E-mail Bill Burt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Torii Hunter file
Grew up: Pine Bluffs, Ark.
Resides: Prosper, Tex.
Family: Married high school sweetheart, Katrina. They have two boys.
Favorite baseball moment: Being called up from AA New Britain in 1997, going into his first game as a pinch-runner on Aug. 22 against the Orioles.
Other sports: Recruited to play football at University of Arkansas.
Drafted: 20th overall pick out of high school in 1993
Best friend in baseball: David Ortiz
2009 salary: $17 million
Career highlights: 3-time All-Star; has won Gold Glove Award last eight years; won 2009 Branch Rickey Award for community service.