"Baseball is the greatest sport to get you ready for the real world. Why? Because it is a game that revolves around failure. And if you continue to push and not quit when it gets tough, baseball helps you get prepared for the way the world really works. "
OLL: What advice could you offer our players in the Oradell Little League today in this very competitive environment?
Aubrey Huff: Have fun! You are at an age where baseball is a game and games are supposed to be fun. In this day and age so many coaches put an emphasis on winning at 8 years old. And even Travel ball coaches get paid good money in Little League to win. And many of these coaches never played past High School. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all about competition and winning. But I believe that is something that gets implemented more and more each year. The way I look at it is baseball is a game until you are getting paid to play it. Then it gets more competitive and serious. But even so, it is still a game and should treat it as such.
OLL: We at Oradell Little League like to teach but challenge our Little Leaguers, explaining the importance of mental toughness in this game. What are some words of encouragement you can offer to kids in the game of baseball that can really open their eyes to what the true goal is?
Aubrey Huff: In my opinion, baseball is the greatest sport to get you ready for the real world. Why? Because it is a game that revolves around failure. And if you continue to push and not quit when it gets tough, baseball helps you get prepared for the way the world really works. It teaches you patience, leadership, persistence, and teamwork. I’m convinced if every kid played baseball for at least 3 years in little league. the world would be a better place as far as successful people are concerned. I believe that.
OLL: What's your earliest memory of Little League and who was that one coach that in the early stages, you remember and appreciated most? You know, the coach really gave you that positive push to fall in love with the game? What was the moment for you?
Aubrey Huff: My mom, honestly. She took me to a Texas Rangers baseball game when I was 6 years old after my father died. That cheered me up. The minute I stepped foot into that stadium and smelled the grass and saw the beautiful blue sky and the way the fans were in awe of the players, I was hooked!
OLL: Tell our players about playing ball for the University of Miami? What was it like, and at that point, are you thinking that a major league career is possible?
Aubrey Huff: Miami is a power house baseball program, and I was a bit intimidated when I first arrived. I wasn't sure I was good enough to play with such an well established program. What I found out was that I did in fact have what it took! It's that drive, determination, and passion to be the best I could possibly be. And after my Junior year when I was named first team All-American at first base, I knew the big leagues was right around the corner.
OLL: Did you always think you had the ability to be great in this game and make it to the pros? What was that moment where you realized you could really do this?
Aubrey Huff: Well, I was actually a very average high school baseball player. My senior year I hit .300 with 1 home run. Hardly major league stats. But I walked onto a junior college, and worked my butt of to get stronger and faster. My freshman year I gained 25 lbs. of muscle and hit .400 with 17 home runs, making All-Conference. That’s when the University of Miami offered me a scholarship. That’s when I knew I had a real shot at the majors. Moral of the story, never ever quit on your dream!
OLL: Aubrey, you are one of those small percentages of athletes that made it to the major. You played for 5 teams in your 13-year career, winning the World Series in 2010 and 2012 with the San Francisco Giants. Take us back to 1988 at the Amateur Draft. What you are you thinking the day you were drafted by the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays?
Aubrey Huff: I was actually in the locker room with the University of Miami team right before our elimination game against Long Beach State at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska... the College World Series. I found out I was drafted in the fifth round as a junior by the Tampa Bay Rays, and knew immediately I would sign regardless of the money. I knew in my heart I would make it, and bigger deals were in my future.
OLL: Which World Series Championship team was more fun for you personally and why? The 2010 or 2012 Giants? And to follow up, How is Bruce Bochy as a leader and manager?
Aubrey Huff: 2010 by far. The first is always the sweetest. I spent my first 9 years with the Rays and Orioles in the basement of the American league East. So 2010 was my first taste at the playoffs and won the World Series. It was a feeling I can't even describe to you.
Bruce Bochy is by far one of the greatest managers to manage. He is a first ballot hall of fame manager with 3 World Series titles. His biggest asset is his ability to manage personalities which I think is the biggest thing that is needed for a manager to be successful in the big leagues. Yes, he knows the game as a past MLB catcher, but his ability to give each individual player the motivation to get the best out of them is what separates him from the pack.
OLL: As a father these days, there is no question you see the enormous pressure some coaches put on kids when they play little league. If you were ‘in charge’… how would you change it for the better?
Aubrey Huff: Quit making Little League baseball about the money! It’s turned into a money game! Especially in the Travel ball circuit. I never played Travel ball and my kids never will. I believe in playing the seasons. There is such a thing as burn-out. And look at all the young pitchers getting Tommy John surgery over the last 10 years since Travel ball started up. Kids are pitching year round which isn’t good for the arm. Pitchers in the 70's and 80's very rarely had a Tommy John surgery. Now it’s almost a right of passage! Stay away from Travel ball! Especially from coaches that are just using your kid to pay his salary!
OLL: As a baseball coach these days, what qualities would you look for most in a player and why?
Aubrey Huff: I look for attitude. Does he want to be there? Does he love it? Last thing I want to do is coach a kid whose mom and dad drop him off as a baby sitting service even when the kid doesn’t want to play. I can tell immediately if a kid wants to be there or not. I’m not worried about talent, just passion and a desire to get better.
OLL: You have managed to play ball since you were a kid, go through the ranks and have an incredible major league career. These days you are an author, an actor and even invested in coffee. Wow! Tell us about your recent successes?
Aubrey Huff: Retiring from the MLB is a tough transition. It’s so hard to find that excitement, passion, and comradery you get in the locker room with guys who are pulling on the same rope. I’ve dove into many different possible careers since then, but none has filled my heart with as much passion as my start-up coffee company Volcan de Fuego coffee.
I’ve found a nice hobby in acting, but coffee is my passion now. Our coffee plant down in Guatemala is a water powered plant that produces up to 4 million pounds of coffee per year. And our mission is to give the farmers fair trade on their coffee. For generations coyotes have come in and basically robbed these farmers their coffee because they couldn’t find any buyers for it. We were able to come in and get this amazing Guatemalan coffee to the United States. This coffee is grown of the side of Volcan de Fuego, one of the most active volcanos in the world. And the cool thing is there never was lava flow... it just spews ash weekly and that seeps into the ground of the coffee plants, delivering minerals, and flavor to the beans that is second to none.
OLL: Leave our players with 1 phrase that encapsulates what the experience should be for a little league ballplayer...
Aubrey Huff: "If the dream is big enough, the odds don’t matter."
A special thanks to my friend Aubrey Huff. A guy that says it like it is and never disappoints. Plus, when it comes to baseball, his hearts in the right place. After all, he even took a picture of himself wearing my kid's River Dell Hawks cap, wishing the team luck.
It doesn't get any better than that.
--Rob Monaco, OLL Media Liasion