Hunter plans to make most of sixth year at Oregon
EUGENE — As much pressure as there is coming out of the bullpen, Darrell Hunter has had some equally anxious moments since he last took the mound for the Ducks.
First, there was the three-month wait to see if the NCAA would grant him a sixth year of elgibility after he battled injuries thoughout his career. That request was approved in September.
"It's exciting, it's rare, and it doesn't happen a whole lot," Hunter said Wednesday as he and the Ducks prepared to begin practice on Friday. "The only thing I can do is be blessed that they gave it to me and make the most of it."
Earlier this month, Hunter's heart was racing again as he prepared to propose to his girlfriend, Jessica Sorensen. Once again, Hunter got the answer he wanted to hear.
"Let's just say I'm glad its over," Hunter said. "A whole lot of planning went into that, and it was nerve-wracking. As confident as you are that she will say 'Yes', it is nice to actually hear it."
Hunter had an elaborate plan for the proposal that occured at PK Park.
"I had a limo pick her up from church to take us to a couple spots that are meaningful to us," he said. "We ended up (at PK Park) and she was blindfolded. When she took the blindfold off, the whole team was behind me and it was up on the Jumbotron. It all worked out."
Everything seems to be working out well these days for Hunter, the Thurston High School graduate who was coach George Horton's first recruit when Oregon brought baseball back in 2008.
"It's really cool," Horton said. "It has been a warm, fuzzy story from our first recruit from Thurston, a local kid that has had hiccups in his career here. The fact he made the team last year and contributed some critical innings for us was a warm, fuzzy story for him with where he came from with some of his health-related issues."
Hunter played first base for the Ducks and started 19 games as a freshman, but then he suffered a concussion that was followed by seizures.
He did not play baseball in 2010 or 2012 and played at Lane Community College in 2011.
He tried out for the Ducks last year as a pitcher and made the team as a reliever. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound right-hander went 2-0 with a 3.40 ERA in 28 appearances.
"Any time you get an athlete who has been around as much as he has and has his talent, it is like an old saavy vet that you get for another year," Horton said. "He can serve as a great leader to the younger bullpen guys and the rest of the pitchers."
Because Hunter has played only three seasons of college baseball, he made the appeal to be granted an extra year.
"The NCAA in my opinion doesn't always get things right, but in this case they awarded a sixth year for Darrell and I think they knocked it out of the park with that decision," Horton said. "It was a clean-cut case of why an athlete should be given a sixth year. He's back, he's in grad school, he got his degree, and he will help us hopefully have another competitive year."
Horton said Hunter has helped the pitching staff off the field by taking them through strenuous weekly workouts.
"He's the old man," Horton said. "He proposed to his fiancee on our field and she said 'Yes'. A lot of neat things have happened to Darrell on this baseball field that will affect him the rest of his life."
Hunter said there was little doubt which was his most important moment on the diamond in recent months.
"Definitely the engagement," he said. "They were both exciting. Something most people don't get is to be granted a sixth year and to play for these coaches."