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Orioles right-hander Tommy Hunter.
Orioles right-hander Tommy Hunter. (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun)

When Tommy Hunter received a call about two weeks ago inviting him to play on a team of major leaguers in the All-Star Series exhibition this month in Japan, the Orioles relief pitcher said the choice was easy.

The Orioles recently had been eliminated in the American League Championship Series and, while many players spend this part of the offseason recovering from a long baseball season, Hunter jumped at the opportunity.

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"I thought it was a pretty easy decision whether to go or not go," Hunter said. "I didn't think it took much of a thought at all. You get to experience a different culture. You get to see a different country. My wife [Ellen] gets to go. It's a good experience for both of us.

"We don't have anything tying us down. We don't have kids yet. This is the time in our lives when we need to get around and do everything we can do before we settle down and start a family. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity kind of deal."

The team will play a five-game series against Japan's national team, Samurai Japan, and two additional exhibition games. The major leaguers will play against a joint team of the Hanshin Tigers and the Yomiuri Giants on Tuesday to kick off the trip. Select games will be broadcast on MLB Network.

Hunter is the Orioles' only player on the roster. Center fielder Adam Jones originally was expected to play, but he had to cancel because of other commitments.

On Thursday, Hunter was preparing to fly from his home in Ohio to Los Angeles, where he'll join the team for a pair of workouts before the squad travels to Japan on Saturday.

"You always get pretty excited when you get to go do things, especially when this kind of opportunity is put in front of you," Hunter said. "I'm excited about it. I'm ready to get over there and see what baseball is like in Japan. I'm happy for the opportunity."

Hunter, who was 3-2 with a 2.97 ERA and 12 holds in 60 relief appearances over 60 2/3 innings this season, said he was surprised to get an invitation to Japan.

Hunter will join a team full of star power, including Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano, Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper and Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria. Former Orioles pitchers Jeremy Guthrie (Kansas City Royals) and Tsuyoshi Wada (Chicago Cubs) are also among those scheduled to participate in the series.

"You get a chance to go out there and play ball," Hunter said. "That's a pretty good lineup they're going to put out there. I'll get to pitch in front of some pretty high-caliber players and play with them. It's just a unique opportunity, and I'm going to take advantage of it."

Hunter began the season as the Orioles closer, but he lost the job in mid-May when left-hander Zach Britton replaced him in the role. Hunter quickly recovered, however, with a 1.77 ERA (9 ER in 45 2/3 IP) for the rest of the season after returning to mostly seventh- and eighth-inning duties.

This isn't Hunter's first taste of international baseball. After his freshman season at Alabama in 2006, he played for the U.S. national collegiate team that played a 30-game exhibition schedule and then the FISU World University Championships in Cuba.

"But other than that one time, we really stayed here in the [United] States," Hunter said. "I've been out [of the country] one time. This is really going to be fun. I'm excited. I'm glad they thought of me. …

"My wife's going. She's excited about it. I'll get some fish, some nice sushi. Some hot sake, some Sapporos. I've got to get away from my Coors Light for a while, but that's all right."

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