Lakeland, Fla. — Chad Huffman rapped a single, his second hit of the day against the Dodgers, on June 27, 2010. Little could he have imagined at the time it would be his last big-league hit for another seven years.
“Just baseball,” he shrugged, trying to explain the gap between big-league work. “Opportunity, little bit of both. Not playing well. Just timing, really. And I played in Japan for two years.
“That’s why getting back last year made it so — just seeing all the hard work pay off — it was a great feeling.”
It was last June 13, Huffman, called up by the Cardinals, smacked a pinch-hit triple against Brewers. Seven years between big-league hits.
“Crazy,” he said. “But to be able to come here and have this opportunity, it’s awesome.”
Huffman will be 33 on April 29. He signed a minor-league deal with the Tigers with an invitation to big-league camp and he’s in the fight for one of the utility spots — he can play corner outfield and first base.
“Anytime you get an opportunity, it’s a great thing,” he said. “Basically, you just give it everything you’ve got. I am ready to do whatever Gardy (manager Ron Gardenhire) wants me to do. I will catch, anything, whatever he needs.”
That includes running into walls, which he did in the game in Tampa on Wednesday, hurling his body into the wall in right field and stealing a double from a Yankees hitter.
“I got a lot of texts after that,” he said, with a smile. “Mostly from my trainers asking me if my shoulder was OK.”
What a journey, though. He was a second-round pick of the Padres out of TCU in 2006. He hit 20 home runs with 68 RBIs and a .361 on-base percentage for Triple-A Portland in 2009 and didn’t even get a September call-up. His Padres days were over.
The next season he made his big-league debut with the Yankees. From there he bounced from the Yankees to the Indians to the Cardinals and then to Japan for two years. He spent 2016 with the Tigers, at Triple-A Toledo, and hit .286 with 17 home runs and 70 RBIs.
In 2017, he bounced from the Nationals organization to the Cardinals, finally getting back to the big leagues for 12 games.
“I’d be lying if I said I never got frustrated,” he said. “But if you focus on being frustrated, you’re aren’t getting better. It’s like anything in life, if you are focused on the negative things, you aren’t progressing.
“I try to do the best I can, day to day, to come out and just enjoy the game.”
Even this deep into his career, with all the ups and downs, Huffman approaches the game with a youthful exuberance.
“You only play so long,” he said. “When it’s over, it’s over. So you give it everything you’ve got. You realize how special it is to be in a major-league locker room and to be able to put on a uniform and go play.”
The numbers aren’t in his favor, in terms of winning a roster spot out of spring training. He’s a right-handed hitter, and the Tigers have an abundance of those. He’s in the utility pool with Alexi Amarista, Niko Goodrum, Ronny Rodriguez, Kody Eaves, Jason Krizan and Pete Kozma.
“I am just going to stay positive and keep rolling,” he said. “My whole thing is, today — win today instead of focusing on the past or the future. If you are focusing on the past and the future, you aren’t doing too much.”