By Bob Lundeberg
Photos and graphic courtesy of Oregon Ducks Baseball and Hunter family
Few people have played a bigger role in the resurrection of Oregon baseball than Darrell Hunter.
Hunter, the 2008 Class 5A state player of the year at Thurston, was the first recruit to sign with the modern-era Ducks. His college career lasted six years due to medical issues, and Hunter spent some time in pro ball before returning to his home area as a baseball administrative assistant for the 2016 season.
The former pitcher has remained in Eugene ever since, navigating the transition between current head coach Mark Wasikowski — an assistant at Oregon during Hunter’s playing days — and George Horton. Hunter, a health junkie, became the team’s strength and conditioning coach in 2019, a position that seamlessly merges his backgrounds in baseball and fitness. The results have been spectacular.
Coming off a successful 2021 season in which Oregon hosted a regional and finished 39-16 overall, the beefed-up Ducks have belted a school-record 71 home runs this spring. They will have the opportunity to do more damage in the postseason, and Hunter expects nothing less from a group that’s embraced his teachings.
“The offense has been really good,” Hunter said. “The young guys have stepped up, and we’ve had some good transfers in guys like (Brennan) Milone and (Drew) Cowley. I think they are aggressive, and even if we haven’t scored in a few innings, we can put up runs anytime.”
Hunter’s journey to the strength and conditioning side of baseball began a decade ago following a terrifying incident at practice.
The Ducks had just completed a poor offensive scrimmage and were running laps as a consequence. Wasikowski, who came aboard as an assistant in the summer of 2011, wanted to change Oregon’s image as a soft hitting team with dominant pitching.
“We were trying to get that mentality across to the guys that this is going to be a different group,” Wasikowski said. “And on that day, the way we were doing it was we would teach and instruct on the things we didn’t like, and we would run a lap to reinforce the negative behavior so we didn’t see it anymore.”
The team had completed only a lap or two when Hunter collapsed and rolled into the left-field wall. The entire staff rushed over to Hunter and quickly realized he was having a seizure.
The incident was a wake-up call for Hunter, who had been plagued by seizures in the past. The seizures first appeared after Hunter suffered a concussion as a sophomore.
“I was really struggling, and then I learned that getting in good shape and eating healthy can help with seizures,” said Hunter. “So, I started doing that. My goal was to never let that happen again.”