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What the Huck?!

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What the Huck?!

Kenny Huckaby throwback picture from 1988.

Photo contributed/

POSTED March 20, 2014 12:41 a.m.

A strange and wonderful thing happened to me recently, and all it took was this column – and years of being a pain in the butt. 

The ever so pervasive question of who is Manteca’s all-time all-around athlete was still playing itself out on my Facebook page. While monitoring the debate, I received a notification that Ken Huckaby had left a comment. My initial thought was “Oh s**t, I’d left Huckaby out of the conversation!” Huck is one of the few Mantecans ever to ascend to the level of Major League Baseball player – and we went to high school together – so I was ready for a tongue in cheek remark. Instead, I had my mind blown by what he wrote. 

Last week’s column revealed my life-long trials and tribulations being a Montreal Expos fan. Huck had read the column, and wanted to know “Would you like to speak with Tim Raines?” Raines is my all-time favorite player and is currently coaching alongside Huckaby with the Toronto Blue Jays organization. Two things popped into my head: I’m terrified to speak to my baseball hero and I can’t believe Huck reads my column!

Huck was two grades above me at MHS, and we both played catcher and quarterback. I recall the few times that we practiced together during baseball, the coaches wanted him to take me under his wing. He usually wanted to wring my neck. Huck was like a coach on the field, while I was more like Bill Murray from Stripes. Having grown up with Huck, I had forgotten how incredible and important his achievements were to Manteca, but I was reminded via good old Facebook.

I mentioned on Facebook that I was going to have the chance to phone chat/interview Tim Raines, and that Huckaby had facilitated the meeting. My Facebook friends were much more interested in the fact that I knew Huckaby. “He came to our classroom once. I still have his autograph!” Or “My uncle says he played with him in HS. Awesome!” Justin Hall even let me know that coach Jack Thomson’s son Scott once got to bring Huck to grade school for show and tell. It was wonderful to hear all these memories about someone I know. I was thinking how there must be thousands of these moments (moments too abundant for Huck to remember) where a kid in our town got to see that someone just like them had made it. Then it dawned on me that even I have a “Huck moment” that I’m sure he doesn’t remember.

It must’ve been around 1994. I was hanging around the Delta College baseball diamond. Huck had come by while in the area and was giving some instruction to the Delta catchers, one of which was my future brother-in-law Brock Hiatt, when lo and behold up walks Stockton native and Minnesota Twin Eddie Guardado. He was just looking to get a workout in, but Huck was busy coaching the Delta catchers. Huck walked over and without hesitation said “Teicheira put that gear on and get him loose.” I remember thinking “Do my Metallica T-shirt and sweatpants not notify him that my catching days are long over?!” He knew what buttons to push, however, and the next thing I know I’m in full gear catching “Everyday Eddie” Guardado. It lasted maybe 5-10 minutes before Huckaby came over and relieved me. On the way home I rubbed it in Hiatt’s face. He said, “We’ll never hear the end of this.” He was right. 

And now 20 years later, Ken Huckaby gives me a second moment I will never forget. The chance to speak with Tim Raines! Tuesday my phone rang and I chatted a bit with Huck before he put Raines on. Huckaby talked about his knees being shot and his arm having a little more rust each year. But believe me, he’d still throw you out. When I asked him for a Manteca memory, he paused and then said, “There are obvious athletic choices. Beating EU my junior year, but what I miss most is hanging out with friends, like Bobby Ott and Billy Boyd. Having a cold one at an orchard party and listening to some tunes.” 

Now that is Manteca to a T!

Just before he passed the phone to Raines, he asked if I was nervous. I was. He said, “You’ll be fine, he’s a cool dude.” It was like ’94 all over again, so I put on my gear and talked to my baseball hero.

The talk with Raines was amazing. There is always that fear that someone you look up to isn’t as cool as you thought. He was cool times 100! My friend and fellow comic Jason Resler helped me put together a series of questions: Toughest pitcher: Nolan Ryan or Steve Carlton; team he hated most: the Mets and Lenny Dykstra; Toughest catcher to run on: “I wasn’t afraid of any catcher.” At one point I remembered that Huckaby wanted me to mention that he’d thrown out Raines when he was a rookie, to which Raines replied, “So he says. I don’t remember it happening.”

And it hit me, Huck had himself a “Raines moment,” a moment in time when he threw out one of the greats. And though Raines says he doesn’t remember it happening, I’m certain Huckaby doesn’t remember signing an autograph for a young Justin Hall. Thanks for the memories Tim, Ken, and Justin, because even more than money, they make the world go ’round.

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