Usually at this time of year, I have my family vacation all planned out and I’m marking off the days until I can pack up my bats and get out of town. There is nothing worse for a baseball player than slogging through September when your team is out of the running. You find yourself arriving at the ballpark later and later. When the game’s over, you’re out of the clubhouse before most of the fans have reached for their car keys.
With the Giants, I’m finally playing games in September that mean something. I can’t wait to get to the park. And I’m not alone. This clubhouse is buzzing five hours before the first pitch. You definitely feel a lot more sense of urgency right now. Every game feels like the most important game of the year – and that’s because it is.
I look at where we are with the Padres, just three games back, and I can’t help but think back to losses early in the season. That’s a new experience for me, too. Those early losses never mattered before. But now those games – the ones you should have won – start eating at you. What if that game had gone a different way? You think about the guy sliding in to home who should have been called out. The double play that just missed and would have ended an inning.
Until now, I never fully appreciated how important EVERY game is, not just the ones in September. You lose a game early in the season and think, “Oh, well, there are so many games to go. We’ll get it back.” Then you get to toward the end of the season and you lose a game like Monday’s against the Rockies. If that happens in April, you’d think, “OK, this stinks, but we’ll get ’em tomorrow.”
When it happens this late, in such a tight race, you take it hard. This clubhouse was absolute silence after that game. That last inning, I hit the ball as hard as I can hit it and it doesn’t go out. Ishi hits the crap out the ball and it’s right to somebody. Same with Buster. Three hard hits and three outs. It’s one of those games that stays with you longer than others, but you have to shake it off and get ready for the next one.
Which we did. That’s what I love about this team. We beat the Rockies Tuesday night and played one of the best games of the season last night. Timmy was awesome. Freddy Sanchez made a catch to end the game that I have never seen anyone make, ever. Darren Ford shows up in the middle of the game and runs around the bases like he has super-powers and scores the winning run.
That’s September baseball.
This is going to be a hellacious road trip, and I mean that in the best possible way. Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Padres. I can’t wait.
Feels great to take two of three from the first-place Reds – though coming up short on Wednesday was a killer. Well, sort of a killer. The way our guys battled back was awesome to see. Sometimes you reveal more about yourself as a player and as a team in a loss than in a win. What this team showed was confidence and fearlessness. There wasn’t a moment in our dugout that we didn’t think we could come back and win. These are the most competitive guys I’ve ever been around.
It’s especially great to see Pablo and Freddy Sanchez find their strokes and terrorize pitchers again. With those guys exploding the way they are, this is an awesome line-up from top to bottom. We’re conceding nothing to the Padres. It’s a steep climb, but there are more than 30 games left to make up ground. And if the Padres never falter, then good for them. Congratulations. They deserve the division title. We’ll just have to get the wild card.
OK. Let’s answer some of your questions.
Were you always so confident, even in high school?
Absolutely not. I was very shy in high school, if you can believe it. I broke out of my shell at the University of Miami when I got around guys like Burrell. I learned how to believe in myself – and I learned how to project confidence even when I didn’t feel very confident. I wouldn’t have made it in baseball if I hadn’t developed a strong belief in myself. I never really believed in myself in high school – considering I had one home run in my entire high school career, I didn’t have a whole lot to feel confident about. I learned how to work hard in high school and I continued to work hard my entire career. But you need more than hard work. You look at David Eckstein and how determined that guy is. You think there’s no way this guy can be a major-leaguer – and then he just goes out and beats you. He works hard and he’s as determined to succeed as anyone I’ve seen. Determination and confidence are so important in this game.
Why do players seem to hang with the same guys in the dugout?
We’re tight as a team, but of course you’re closer to some players than others. I have a lot of history with Burrell and Aaron Rowand and a few other guys. So I’m more likely to hang with them in the dugout and talk about situations in the game and get their thoughts.
Do you have a favorite restaurant?
The truth is we don’t have a lot of time to go out when we have a home stand. But There’s a sushi place I like that’s not far from the park – but I can’t remember the name of it!
Did you learn how to speak Spanish when you were growing up in Texas? Is there a lot of Spanish spoken in the clubhouse?
I didn’t learn Spanish – but I sure wish I had. There’s a lot of Spanish in the clubhouse, as you might imagine. I know some words, none of which I can repeat here.
What are your hobbies when you’re not playing baseball?
My kid! When you’re a father of a two-year-old, you don’t have much time for anything but him. Before Jayce was born, I liked to paint. Oils and airbrush. Mostly landscapes. In a high school drawing class, I drew a portrait of Barry Bonds from a photo in a magazine. When I was with the Rays and we were playing the Giants, I sent the drawing over to Giants clubhouse through Dustin Mohr. Bonds signed it, “To Huff. God Bless. Barry Bonds.” I have it hanging in my memorabilia room at home.
Do you really have Transformer tattoos? And what’s the tattoo on your right forearm?
Yes, I do have Transformer tattoos. Instead of getting an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other – which pretty much captures my personality – I decided to get an Autobot and a Decepticon. I’m a huge Transformers fan. The tattoo on my right forearm is a four-leaf clover. It was the first tattoo I ever got. My wife and I are both of Irish descent, so we got engaged three years ago, we decided to both get four-leaf clovers. (Hers is on her wrist.) I also have my father’s name and a guitar on my left arm, and my son’s name and little footprints on the left side of my chest. When our next child is born – my wife is pregnant – I’ll have that child’s name plus handprints on the right side of my chest.
How many bats do you go through in a season and what do you do with your broken bats?
I go through about 24. MLB takes the broken ones because they’re studying whether certain types of wood break more easily than others.
What was your scariest moment in a game?
A pitcher on my team was hit in the head by a line drive. The ball hit him so hard it bounced into the stands behind home plate. I thought he was dead. But all he had was a big lump and a bruise. (The hit was ruled a ground-rule double.)
What’s your favorite city on the road?
Definitely Chicago. It’s such a beautiful city and there’s so much to do. We can walk everywhere from the hotel. Great restaurants and clubs.
Who’s the toughest pitcher you ever faced?
Pedro Martinez. When I faced him for the first time, every pitch he threw was the best pitch I’d ever seen.
Who were your baseball role models growing up?
Nolan Ryan. I grew up in Texas so I loved Nolan Ryan. One of the guys I most admired when I got to the big leagues was Ken Griffey Jr. He’s just so down-to-earth and approachable. He handles being a superstar the way you hope you would if you were ever in his position.
I know I didn’t get to all the questions. I’ll try to catch up next time. Keep coming out the ballpark to cheer us on. The fans in San Francisco are the best in baseball and you guys give us an awesome home-field advantage. So I’ll see you at the park.
You guys have great questions. Makes writing this blog easy because I don’t have to think of topics myself . . .
How did the nickname Huff Daddy come about?
When the singer Puff Daddy hit the charts in the early 90s, I was in high school in Texas. Somebody just said “Huff Daddy” one day and it caught on. People have been calling me that ever since.
What do you like about living in SF?
I like that there are a lot of Mom and Pop places. You go to big cities and all you see are Morton’s and Flemings and all the chain restaurants. But so many of the restaurants and shop are unique to this city. So you’re never bored. There’s a sense of discovery every time you go out. And you feel connected to the people who own the restaurants and stores. We live up by Fillmore Street in Pacific Heights. We go out our door and there’s everything you could want — from Asian food, Mexican, pizza. And all the interesting shops. We live in a great house and we love it – but it’s costing us, let me tell you. I’ve never see anything like the rental and real estate prices here. Wow. For a boy from Texas, it’s pretty eye opening. In the off-season, we live in Tampa.
What did you major in at the University of Miami?
Like everybody else, I majored in business management. I’d say baseball but that wouldn’t look good.
What do you think of Wilson’s orange shoes and the fine?
I loved his shoes. I think it would be a kick if everybody on the team wore those shoes on Orange Fridays. I understand the league has to have rules, but this is one rule I don’t understand. Who cares what he’s wearing on his feet as long as it’s not distracting to the hitter? And really, if you’re a hitter and you’re looking at Brian Wilson’s shoes while you up at the plate, you shouldn’t be in the big leagues.
How long were you in minors before you thought you had a chance to reach the big leagues?
You always wonder every time you move up to the next level of competition, whether it’s from high school to college, college to the pros, if you’re good enough to make it. When I got drafted out of the University of Miami, I joined Tampa Bay’s High-A club. The draft is late enough that you join the pros for just the second half the season. That meant, of course, switching to a wooden bat and playing just about every day. I hit .321 with 13 homers and had about 50 RBIS in half a season. I felt right there, that first year, “I think I’ve got a shot.”
What do you see yourself doing after baseball?
I don’t think anyone will be surprised by my answer here. I’d like to do radio or television. I enjoy talking about baseball and I think I have a pretty interesting perspective on things. As everyone knows, I have no problem saying what I really think. My agent has a program that helps train players to make the transition into broadcasting. I can’t see ever leaving baseball completely. You play this game so long it becomes a part of who you are. I can’t see how you wouldn’t want to stay in it. As an athlete, you play until you’re 35 or 40 – if you’re really lucky – which means you still have half your life to live. You’ve accumulated all this knowledge and all these stories about the game, so it just makes sense that you’d want to share them.
What do your friends call you?
In the clubhouse, it’s mostly Huffy. But Huff Daddy is catchier.
When you have free time in clubhouse, what are you doing?
Before a game, I like to talk trash to the guys. You rip on guys and have some fun. We don’t talk too much baseball before the game. Everybody’s just BSing and doing their own thing to get ready. After the game, that’s when we talk baseball. You have a few beers and go over situations that happened in the game. You talk to teammates about what you were thinking in a certain situation – or what you should have been thinking. You want to go over things that might help you in the future if that situation comes up again. You’re constantly getting feedback from other people and constantly learning. You can never know everything, which is what makes this game so interesting and why I can’t see myself ever leaving it.
What’s the deal with the short hair and what happened to your mustache?
I had a goatee going, and on the last road trip I was trimming my mustache and accidentally went too far and had to shave the whole thing off. I found that I liked it, so I’ve kept it that way. As for my buzz-cut: during the season I don’t have time for a barber. I’ve got a two-year-old and a pregnant wife. When I’m at home I want to be with them. I don’t want to go spend an hour with a barber. So I just cut it myself.
What are your favorite meals before and after a game?
I don’t eat before a game because it makes me feel weighed down. I have lunch around 1 or 1:30 p.m. then don’t eat again for about 10 hours, until after the game. I’ll eat chicken and pasta usually — get the carbs back in and some protein.
First-basemen and base runners always seem to chat at first base. What are you saying?
It depends on who it is. If it’s a guy you like, you’re just kind of BSing, talking trash. You might talk about the at-bat he just had. If he’s a friend, you might ask if he wants to get a cocktail after the game. If it’s a guy you don’t like, you hope he doesn’t get on base. And if you don’t know the guy at all, you don’t say anything. No reason to.
What is the funniest prank you’ve seen?
There have been a lot but the one that comes to mind happened in Baltimore. John “T-Bone” Shelby was deathly afraid of snakes. When he opened the door of the cubbyhole in his locker, a fake snake suddenly unfurled and fell out. T-Bone jumped and fell backward. I thought he had a heart attack. That was a pretty good one.
How did you come to pick “Stayin’ Alive” for the song when you come to bat?
When we were in Atlanta, the song came on the play list in the clubhouse. Barry Zito knows I like the Bee-Gees. He said, “Huffy, this should be your song.” I said, “I do love this song.” He said, “Just think of walking to the plate to this song in San Francisco.” I was sold.
See you at the park – and keep the questions coming.
Thanks for all the great comments and questions. I’m diving right in to answer all the ones I can.
How I made the transition to the outfield and what’s my favorite part about playing outfield:
I had never played outfield at all until I was with Tampa Bay and they needed me to switch in ’06. I had always played the infield, but I thought, ‘How hard could it be?’ I gave it a shot in spring training and played there all season. The biggest adjustment is you have to do a lot more running, so you have be in better cardiovascular shape than if you’re playing first base.
My favorite part about playing outfield is you have a lot more interaction with the fans. You can have a lot of fun messing with them, especially on the road. My favorite fans to mess with are – who else? – Dodger fans.
On whether the loud cheering when I’m up to bat interferes with my concentration:
Late in a game when the crowd’s really into it and you’ve got the adrenaline pumping a little more than usual, you can caught up in all that and get too aggressive at the plate. You have to step out, take a deep breath and just remind yourself to relax. But believe me, you hear the crow. Any guy who says he can block it out completely is lying to you.
Whether I like batting third or fourth in the lineup:
If I had to choose, I’d have to say third because you’re going to get to hit in the first inning.
On joking about being “sneaky-ripped”:
When I was with Baltimore, Kevin Millar and I would joke about which one of us had the worst body. I played DH and first base, so I was chunkier then. Last off-season, knowing I was coming to San Francisco and the National League, I lost 15, 20 pounds with a personal trainer three times a week and cardio on my own twice a week. And I changed the way I eat. I used to eat all kinds of crap. Now I’m really careful about what I put into my body. So I joke about my sneaky-ripped body mostly to let Kevin Millar over there at MLB Network know I’m no longer as fat as he is.
What I think of San Francisco weather:
I’m a Texas boy who played for years in Tampa. I’m a warm-weather guy. So to be really honest, the weather here sucks. Day games are gorgeous. You can’t find a better place to play baseball than a day game here. You wish you could play all day games at home. But night games are tough. It’s freezing. But it’s definitely home field advantage for us because a lot of teams come in here and hate it. We get kind of used to it but it’s still pretty chilly out there.
What my expectations were when I signed with Giants:
I’ve got to be honest. I knew the dimensions of the field here – which means I knew this is where the long ball comes to die. And with the down year I had last year, I didn’t know what to expect. Yet I found myself in the first month of the season swinging for the fences. I’d swing so hard, I’d jam myself up. So I stopped trying to hit home runs. Sure enough, I started hitting them. I just starting taking a nice, easy swing and letting the pitcher provide the power. It’s amazing that no matter how long you play ball, you still have to keep relearning the same lessons. If you just put the head of the bat out there and let the pitcher supply all the power, you’re going to hit it a long way. I always have high expectations for myself every season, but I never put a number on it. But the truth is I’m a little bit over what I thought I’d be.
Why the Giants seem to have so much energy in the dugout compared to other teams:
I think that happens when you’re winning. When you’re winning, it’s a lot easier for people to have fun. I’ve never been a part of something this fun. I was always in the other dugout with my head down waiting for the nine innings to be over. It also helps that everybody is just so free-spirited here. Brian Wilson’s a rock star out there. Tim Lincecum looks like he plays for the Beatles. There’s a good mix of veteran guys and young guys. I think that’s what you want to have. This staff is awesome, too. I’ve never seen a better staff in my life.
If I still throw a knuckleball between innings:
I’d do that on the last throw when I was playing the infield. But I’m an outfielder now, and it takes a bit more of a toll on the arm, I so I quit.
What the attitude of the Giants is like:
We show up every day knowing we have a good chance to win.
How I get pumped up before the game:
At around 6:15 before a night game, I put the headphones on to old-school metal rock like Metallica and ride the bike for about 10 minutes. Then I do one lift with each muscle group. Then it’s go out there and see the ball, hit the ball.
Wow, you people have a lot of questions . . .
Got to put the headphones on and head for the bike . . .