LANSING, Mich. – Ken Huckaby has received a promotion.
The former Major League catcher and Manteca High star has been named the manager of the Lansing Lugnuts after serving as the team’s hitting coach last season.
The Lugnuts are the Class-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, an organization Huckaby back-stopped three seasons with.
His role won’t be defined by wins or losses, but how well he and his staff can develop Toronto’s young talent.
The new position leans on Huckaby’s strength as a teacher. Before embarking on a managerial career, he ran a baseball academy and clinics.
“The role of the minor league manager is more about developing our players and trying to get them ready for the next level,” Huckaby said in a telephone interview with the Manteca Bulletin. “My job is to get the kids ready for the next level. We try to teach the kids about winning, but at the same time, our ultimate goal is to prepare them for the big leagues.
“When you get into pro ball, the talent pool is about even. We teach them routines and how to mentally prepare themselves, how to physically prepare themselves for a 140- and 160-game schedule.”
Huckaby enjoyed a six-year big league career, donning the cap of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox and Blue Jays. He won a World Series with the Diamondbacks in 2001, just months after earning a silver medal with Team USA at the World Games.
Huckaby was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 22nd round of the 1991 amateur draft but made his major league debut with Arizona in 2011 at the age of 30. He struck out in his only plate appearance.
In 2002, Huckaby played in a career-high 88 games with the Blue Jays. He batted .245 with 67 hits, 22 RBI, 29 runs, 10 extra base hits, and three home runs.
However, he’s best remembered for one moment at the start of the 2003 season.
Huckaby, for better or worse, will forever be linked to now-retired Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Huckaby sent Jeter to the disabled list with a separated shoulder, after colliding with the beloved Yankees star while covering third base on Opening Day.
He was vilified by New York fans.
Today, the battle lines remain, at least at the club level.
Huckaby returned to the Yankees’ American League East rival two years ago as a coach, working his way up through the ranks. He served as the Bluefield Blue Jays’ hitting coach in 2013 and then took on the same position with the Lugnuts a year ago.
This year, he’ll call the shots.
Huckaby is joined by hitting coach Kenny Graham, pitching coach Jeff Ware and athletic trainer Drew MacDonald. The Lugnuts open the season on April 9 and will play 19 games in 18 days.
Huckaby graduated from Manteca High in 1989 and played two seasons at Delta, where he caught the attention of Dodgers scouts. He was inducted into the Manteca Hall of Fame in 2003 and now resides in Chandler, Ariz.
He credits the coaches from his youth with a lot of his professional success.
“I was fortunate to play baseball and football at Manteca High and have access to the coaches I had,” Huckaby expounded. “Coach Jack Thomson. Coach Jack Miller. Coach Bob Lee. They had a huge influence on me as a high school athlete coming.”
Huckaby said he never imagined a life spent on the diamond or in the dugout.
“I feel fortunate. I was a Manteca kid that was delivering Domino’s Pizza when it was next to Sadie’s on Yosemite Avenue in high school and at Delta. I would have never thought that 26 years later I’d still be doing what I love,” he said.
“You can’t fathom that when you’re 17 or 18 years old, knocking on the door and telling people that their pizza is ready. I feel very fortunate.”