Shooter Hunt of Beloit Loves His Nickname

General : : Professional
Jim Ecker        
Published: Monday, April 13, 2009

You can't talk to Beloit Snappers pitcher Steven Daniel "Shooter" Hunt without asking about his nickname. That's okay, because he likes to talk about it and smiles easily, no matter how many times he’s told the story.

As it turns out, his father was a big fan of Dennis Hopper's character in the movie "Hoosiers," the classic tale of small-town high school basketball in Indiana, and vowed he'd name his first-born son "Shooter" as well. Hopper played a broken-down drunk in the movie, but he was a sympathetic character with redeeming qualities.

"Yeah, but he knew his stuff. He really did know his stuff," said Shooter Hunt, the character’s namesake. "My dad really loves the name. I'm glad he gave it to me."

Hunt was the 31st pick overall in the 2008 draft by the Minnesota Twins following an outstanding senior year at Tulane, where he held opponents to a .175 batting average and was named the Conference USA Pitcher of the Year. And yes, he's officially known as "Shooter" in baseball circles. He's listed on the Beloit roster as Shooter Hunt, without any quotation marks, and he's also listed in the 2009 Baseball America Super Register as Shooter, also without the quotation marks, although his proper given name is listed on the very next line.

"My mom's side of the family calls me Steven, for the most part. I like that just as much," he said. "My mom calls me Steven to this day, but everyone else is pretty much Shooter. I like them both."

When you think about it, Shooter is a good nickname for a pitcher, especially a pitcher who was a supplemental first-round pick with a chance to make the big leagues.

"The Twins are pretty good in their scouting department about scouting 'makeup' and character," said Beloit pitching coach Gary Lucas, who pitched in the majors for eight years with the San Diego Padres. "I mean, if you look at the kid's physical tools -- the kid's got good size, he's got a good fastball, he's got a better curveball. I think his upside is very good."

Beloit Manager Nelson Prada said Hunt needs to keep working on his command, but predicts a bright future.

"He's got the tools, he's got everything he needs to pitch in the big leagues," said Prada.

Hunt, from Wyckoff, N.J., attended Perfect Game tournaments in Florida in 2003 and 2004 as a high school junior and senior, and credits his appearances there with giving him the confidence that he could play pro ball.

"That's where all the scouts kind of collaborate, I guess you would say," he remarked. "I felt good there, and that's where it happened, I guess, my senior year."

Hunt, 22, played for an all-star team from New Jersey at those Perfect Game events. He said they were determined to succeed, in more ways than one.

"I'm sure we were all going there to impress the college coaches and pro scouts," he said. "But I mean, the guys on our team, we were really trying to win the game. The easiest way to play well is to try to win the game. As far as other guys,it's trying to get their innings or look good. We all went out there to try and show how good we were as a team."

Hunt, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound right-hander, began his college career at the University of Virginia, then transferred to Tulane, where he blossomed into one of the top prospects in the country. He flew home from New Orleans to New Jersey for the draft last June and was thrilled when Minnesota called his name with the 31st pick.

"It was exciting to have that happen and enjoy it with my family," he said. "It was exciting for all of us."

He signed a few weeks later and split last year between Elizabethton in the Appalachian League and Beloit in the Midwest League. He was the opening-day pitcher for the Snappers against the Cedar Rapids Kernels on April 8, but struggled with his command and was lifted in the fourth inning. "I didn't really have command of anything," he said. "I kind of battled the whole way."

Like many young pitchers, he needs to throw more strikes.

"He needs some better fastball command, but I think that will come with innings," said Lucas, in his 10th year as a coach with Minnesota. "We have a plan for Shooter, like we've had for others in the past, and he should be right on track with everybody else."
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