Aubrey Huff Finds Home in San Francisco

Funny how life treats us. And how we treat life. Aubrey Huff was the man nobody wanted, the man of whom it was written in one of those blogs, "he cannot perform at the dish.'' For someone whose baseball reputation was as a hitter, that's about as bad as it gets.

His career had been spent with bad teams, Tampa Bay in the early 2000s, the Orioles in the late 2000s. He had publicly called Baltimore a horsespit town, or something close to that. He was known as only an ordinary defensive player.

And in the opening days of January 2010, he was a free agent.

Huff needed a job. The San Francisco Giants, who had missed on Adam Dunn, missed on others, needed a batter and a first baseman. Huff wasn't the one they wanted, but Huff was the one they signed.

In such ways is genius revealed. Or stumbled upon.

Huff is hitting above .300 and at the end of July had 20 home runs. Defense? He has played beautifully at first. In right field. In left field. And the Giants are very much a contender, battling San Diego for first in the National League West.

The guy previously referred to a problem is now being called a team leader. He's the one in the dugout leading the cheers. Literally. For Huff and the Giants, necessity has evolved into ecstasy.

"This,'' said Huff, "is something I've been waiting for my whole life. After all those last-place teams, you've got to realize I'm going to be a little more excited than most people.''

If at age 33, Aubrey Huff III, lean, tan, has offered a no-nonsense view of his professionas it's accepted. Baseball never was as much a game as an obsession, an opportunity, a replacement for the father he never knew, the father who when Aubrey III was 6 was murdered attempting to halt a domestic dispute in Abilene, Texas.

Fonda Huff was 28 then, alone and left with two children, Aubrey and his 4-year-old sister Angela. That Fonda would earn a masters and go on to become a teacher and her son would make it to the majors without being drafted out of high school or getting serious attention initially from top-line colleges - eventually he was offered a scholarship to go to Miami - tells you something about persistence and motivation.

And perhaps about the reason Aubrey Huff can be so serious about succeeding in baseball.

"I play it as hard as I can,'' he said, "and then I leave it on the field. Nine years of losing, and now I'm playing it for something.''

He meant in the team concept. From the time he was a kid, out in Mineral Wells, Texas, an hour and a half west of Fort Worth, Huff played for his own satisfaction. His father had been a top-notch softballer, his mother an excellent basketball player. Sport was in his DNA.

When Aubrey was about 10 he asked his mother, then working at a Winn-Dixie market, for a batting cage. She complied. The $2,500 bill for the pipes, the netting, the lights no less, went on Fonda Huff's credit card. A waste of money, said the neighbors. A family responsibility, insisted Fonda.

"I told her, ‘One day when I make the majors I'll pay you back,' ‘' Huff related several years ago to Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times. "So when I did, I let the money grow a little bit and I took out some money and gave it to her and said, ‘Here's for the batting cage.' I still help her out whenever she needs it.''

In another way, he's helped the Giants. Tremendously. In July, when the seemingly moribund team began to win again, he went 10 for 21 with runners in scoring position, third best in the league for the month.

"I don't know where we would be without him,'' Giants manager Bruce Bochy has said multiple times. "He's been the big bat when we had to have one.''

Although he was a star at Brewer High School in Fort Worth, where the family moved to, Huff was ignored by the four-year colleges, for baseball. Kansas did want him for basketball, but in his mind he was a slugger, not a shooter.

He enrolled at Vernon Regional Junior College in north Texas, gained 25 pounds, hit 17 homers and hit the jackpot. It was on to Miami, where he set a school record with 95 runs batted in as a junior. Tampa Bay then picked him in the fifth round of the 1998 draft. By 2003 he was driving in 107 runs for the Rays.

Twice more in the majors, 2004 with Tampa, 2008 with Baltimore, Huff had more than 100 RBIs. Baseball people tell you of all the stats, that one is significant. Getting people across the plate is what counts.

"Huff has done that all season,'' said Bochy. "He gets the runners home.''

And apparently as a result has found himself one.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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