How Ken Huckaby stole the show in Blue Jays intrasquad games


TORONTO – If you’ve watched the highlights of the intrasquad games at the Toronto Blue Jays camp over the past week, you probably know Ken Huckaby.

It’s him behind the plate, hitting Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Without a minor league season to lead a team, triple A manager Buffalo Bisons has been in Toronto with the big league club, hitting infielders , helping the Blue Jays The major leagues coach John Schneider develops the club’s catchers and, of course, calls the balls and strikes.

Schneider was actually supposed to be the camp referee. But that’s until it becomes clear that putting Schneider, a former catcher whose playing career has ended due to a series of concussions, into the line of fire might not be such a big deal. good idea.

Or, as Huckaby – a former league catcher himself – says, “I guess Schneids is on the concussion protocol for life. ”

But why was Huckaby next? Does he have arbitration experience?

“Zero. Absolutely zero, ”he says. “They just needed someone and I’m not afraid of being hit.”

And yet, these punches. It’s art.

And they are improving.

At first, Huckaby tried to keep things neutral and reserved. Hitters take these intrasquad games seriously. He didn’t want to show anyone.

But each time he made his way to the net between the heats to discuss the match with fellow coaches Charlie Montoyo or Dave Hudgens, Huckaby found they didn’t want to talk about the match at all.

“Right away, they give me a suggestion of something else to do,” says Huckaby. “They’re like, ‘You have to be more creative, Huck.’ ”

And so…

Watch Montoyo’s reaction in the upper right corner of the frame. It is implied. Everyone expects it now. So much so that Huckaby put himself in his own head.

“Sometimes when I get two strikes I start to think, ‘Okay, what am I going to do if I call her? I have to do something here, ”he says. “And that could lead to bad strike three calls.” It could make me jump to the punch just so I can get there. And now I’ve called a field that I probably shouldn’t be calling. ”

It’s a lot of pressure, okay? You would not understand. At one point, Huckaby attempted to remove the moonwalk Leslie Neilson from Naked Gun. Cavan Biggio – born seven years after the film’s release – was there. He did not like the reference.

“I think I upset him a little bit with that one,” says Huckaby. “To be fair, I can’t walk on the moon for nothing. It did not go very well. So I’m going to put away that one. I will not do that again. ”

It’s not just the punches that Huckaby is sorry for. Well, these are the punches. But it is rather what brought them. The other night, Randal Grichuk couldn’t believe the call for strike-three Huckaby had given him. No chance whatsoever on the plate. So they went back to the clubhouse and watched the video.

“It was borderline. Grich said, in a game, it’s a call a pitcher is going to want and a batter is going to want to be called like a ball. So I’m in a no-win situation, no matter what I do, ”says Huckaby. “If I miss a call – and I will – I will be the first to go and watch the video and apologize. All you can really do is just try to stick to the area as close as possible. And if you screw it up, you just admit that you screwed it up.

“You will lose whatever you do. I guess I learned this from the referees. I can appreciate it a little more now. If you miss a call with a launcher, you will hear it from the defense. And if you call someone on borderline, you will hear the batter. ”

Of course, everyone between the lines takes these games seriously. The Blue Jays are gearing up for a 60-game season in which they will need to get a hot start, or at least a reasonable start, if they are to have a chance. So when Huckaby isn’t walking on the moon, he finds ways to help his team improve.

For starters, he’s looking to see what works and what doesn’t for club pitchers from the best seat in the stadium. Huckaby relayed this information to pitching coach Pete Walker and reliever paddock coach Matt Buschmann, telling them that things are going well and that may need adjustment.

“We had very good pitchers,” said Huckaby. “It’s just great to see how good our arms are from this point of view. ”

Julian Merryweather stood out. Rafael Dolis too. Bryan Baker, Jordan Romano, Ty Tice – basically everyone who’s fighting for a spot and trying to make a good impression. And Simeon Woods Richardson was impossible to miss on his second out of the camp earlier this week.

“His fastball has a good life. His change is really good. And his cursor is amazing too, ”says Huckaby. “He just seems to be having fun.” He has a sly little smile on his face as if he were having fun when he pitched. And that, for me, is a good sign when the child is 19, 20 years old. ”

Being behind the plate also gave Huckaby a good overview of the club’s catchers, with whom he would work all day before his duties as a night referee. Sometimes, after Danny Jansen calls and grabs a location, he turns to Huckaby and asks what he thought of the selection and how he got it.

“It was the biggest bonus of being there – being able to have conversations with the wrestlers on the pitch sequences,” he said. “Just to see where their brains are as they go through them with the ability to see what the batter is doing too.” I can be someone they can lean on while they’re out there trying to make their way by working with launchers. ”

It’s not just fun and games there, okay? Stop running. And to that end, Huckaby’s calls have become noticeably more discreet as the camp continues and the competition intensifies. Understandable, but disappointing. Suppose it was good as long as it lasted.

And yet, don’t look now, but just above Huckaby’s left shoulder, new hope appears…


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