Wendell wears respect for hunting proudly

Turk Wendell 

He's a guy who wears his hunting trophies around his neck and has bagged a wild turkey on the morning before a game in which he pitched.

He's been known to brush his teeth in the dugout and conform to superstitious game-time routines.

And his wife once was resigned to phone for a search-and-rescue effort when he failed to come home from a hunt.

Indeed, Philadelphia Phillies reliever Turk Wendell is a character, and he loves his hunting as much as his does his sport.

When asked by ESPN Outdoors last season during an "Athletes in the Outdoors" interview to compare baseball and hunting, the 34-year-old Wendell, then playing with the New York Mets, came up with a real doozie of a response.

"I like to think of the hitters as the animal and me as the hunter," Wendell said.


"Well, it is a battle of survival," he explained. "With animals in the woods, you are on their turf. And hitters are out there battling you for your survival. You are trying to put food on the table, and they are trying to take it away."

What else would you expect from a player who wears No. 13 and has been dubbed "the nutty reliever?"

Heck, this is a fellow who is remembered on his alma mater's Web site at Quinnipiac University for not starting games until the right fielder tipped his hat. "Once it took 15 minutes to start because the outfielder forgot," director of athletics emeritus Burt Kahn is quoted as saying.

But we love offbeat hunter-athletes, and here is our latest Q&A in the "Athletes in the Outdoors" series:

ESPN Outdoors: "So, when you aren't hunting, I imagine you are in to watching animals."

Turk Wendell: "Oh yeah, that is what I try to explain to people. They ask, 'How can you kill such beautiful animals?'

"I love animals, probably more than the next guy. When I'm not hunting them, I like to watch them; they just intrigue me. "

EO: "I try to explain to my wife about hunting and often I defer to the hunter's pledge that I keep in my wallet; the first line reads, 'Respect the environment and wildlife.'"

TW: "Exactly. Everyone always asks me why I where this necklace. And I say because it is mine. That is my tribute to the animals I have harvested. So that spirit of the animal lives on."

EO: "Is that a bear claw on the necklace?"

TW: "I've got a polar bear claw on there that an Eskimo sent me; he said that it was good luck. That is the only thing that I haven't shot. But I've got mountain lion claws, elk teeth, turkey spurs, wild pig teeth and a buffalo tooth."

EO: "This is your tribute to the animals, and it is out of respect. So is the necklace always on you?"

TW: "Yes."

EO: "What is this Good Guy Award (from the New York Press Photographers Association in February 2000) you got?"

TW: "I don't know. I don't pay attention to all that stuff. Whatever the writers write and vote on. I do a lot of charity work, especially for kids, off the field.

"But I've gotten to the point where I don't want any acknowledgment for anything I do. I don't want any press there, no photographs, no TV. I do it for nobody else except for me; I don't need to see it on the news, and I don't need people to see it on the news."

EO: "Can hunting be a diversion?"

TW: "I wouldn't say a diversion or distraction. I would say it is a way to get away from the game, so that when you come back to the game it makes it fresh again."

EO: "Tell me about your turkey hunting with (former Mets teammate) Rick White. Would you guys go out early on the day of a night game?"

TW: "Oh, yeah. Get up early, come back, take a nap; no different than getting up and doing something else."

EO: "What does the team think about you hunting on the day you might be pitching?"

TW: "I don't know. I'm sure if I was pitching badly, they'd think badly on it."

EO: "Have you gotten any grief over it?"

TW: "No, not yet, knock on wood … until this comes out."

EO: "You have the reputation of being the 'nutty reliever.' (Wendell once was renowned for slamming his rosin bag onto the mound and brushing his teeth in the dugout, superstitious habits he gave up at the behest of his manager.) Do you have any superstitions for hunting?"

TW: "I don't know. If I'm bowhunting, I change the bow or arrows to try to change up my luck. I'm a pretty firm believer of finding a lucky penny and putting it in my boot."

EO: "Have you been any luckier when you found a penny?"

TW: "Oh, heck yeah."

EO: "What would you do if you had a bad streak of hunting days?"

TW: "I don't know a person who doesn't have a bad streak of hunting days; that's why it is called hunting not killing, fishing not catching."

EO: "What do you consider your specialty?"

TW: "Deer hunting, with a bow."

EO: "What is your most memorable day in the field?"

TW: "I don't know, I've had so many. I had a pretty good feeling when I shot my first deer. It was a long shot and I stalked the deer for quite a while. Then there was the time I was hunting mountain lion, when everyone thought I got stranded and lost in the woods."

EO: "When did this happen?"

TW: "January 2000."

EO: "What happened?"

TW: "I tracked a lion for 15 miles (in Colorado). I finally got him and it was right at dark. There was no way I would have made it back before sundown.

"So rather than taking the risk of walking in the wilderness with this 180-pound lion in the dark, and maybe breaking an ankle or twisting an ankle, I simply spent the night, built a fire and walked out the next morning.

"I had no means of getting a hold of my wife. So, when I didn't come home, she got worried and called search and rescue. I didn't know it was going to be 17-below that night, either."

EO: "Were you by yourself?"

TW: "No, I was with a guide."

EO: "So, you were never worried?"

TW: "No, neither one of us were ever worried."

EO: "How did you get the cat out of there?"

TW: "We walked back and found an easier way to get him back."

EO: "Was that your first mountain lion?"

TW: "Yeah."

EO: "How was that thrill?"

TW: "It's just the thrill of if you are in good enough shape to keep up with the dogs. The dogs pretty much do all the work; it's when you get to the lion, it's a little, uh ... , 'Well, now I've got to the lion.' When you get to the lion, it's pretty much a done deal; they are so elusive that some people never even see them."

EO: "Do you ever get satisfaction out of not pulling the trigger?"

TW: "You have to do your part in game management. I try to help people understand the rules and ethics of hunting. People that don't do it are usually people that have no knowledge. I try to explain that they don't know they have to save up so much food for the next year."

For more "Athletes in the Outdoors," click here.