Huckaby Trying To Survive Once More

VERO BEACH, Fla- When Ken Huckaby arrived at Dodgertown for his second tour in the Dodger organization, he felt that, unlike most years he's spent in the game, he knew exactly what his role would be. Now, he's not so sure.

  "They told me I was to be the No. 3 catcher," Huckaby was saying. "I am to go to Las Vegas and be ready if anything happens to Russell Martin or Mike Lieberthal. But now, they've signed Kelly Stinnett so I'm not so sure that's the case."

  Huckaby is a veteran of 16 years in the game with parts of five of those spent at the big league level. For the past several seasons, "I'd go to camp with a goal of making the team. I know I won't be doing that this time  but now I'm not sure what role they have in mind."

  Huckaby signed as a free agent in November. Since then they've added not only Stinnett but also Sandy Martinez, another catcher with considerable service. So, it's no surprising that Huckaby feels the playing field may have shifted.

  He's used to competition, though. When he first signed as a Dodger it was as a 22nd round draft choice back in 1991. People taken down that far usually stick around for a year or so, then go out into the real world for a more mundane job. But here it is, 2007, and he's still around.

That's because he's an extremely competent man behind the plate. He's not all that bad a hitter, either. He's managed a .271 lifetime average in the minors although his .222 major league mark shows why he's often had to battle for employment.

His first tour of duty with the Dodgers included two years in Vero Beach (1992 and 93). During that time he met his future wife, a resident of this area. They've since settled in Arizona but his mother-in-law still lives around here. In fact, they're staying with her this spring.

  "I didn't feel like I was back when I walked into this place," he commented, indicating the major league clubhouse which was built long after he had left for other parts. "When we went to the practice fields, though, I felt at home again."

You'll find his name listed on the alltime Dodger roster for the years 1995 and 96. However, his personal stat sheet doesn't indicate any playing time with L.A. That's because,although he was called up during both of those years, he spent his time warming up pitchers in the bullpen. Thus, despite 29 days on the active roster, he never got into a game.

He finally made his official big league debut with the Diamondbacks in 2001. It was hardly spectacular as he struck out in his only at-bat.  Still, the next year, he played in 88 games for the Blue Jays.

Huck went on to play for the Rangers, Orioles, Blue Jays again and Red Sox in the big leagues, illustrating what a handy guy he is to have around. And that's why the Dodgers re-signed him at age 36, which, coincidentally, is the uniform number he's wearing.

  While he's perfectly willing to go to Vegas on a stand-by basis, Stinnett might not be for Kelly's  indicated that he's here to impress Grady Little enough that he'll want to keep him around. That hardly seems likely considering the status of Martin and Lieberthal and he does have an out in his contract if another major league club comes calling.

  Then, there's Martinez to factor in so the battle for the number three receiver's job may not be as noticed as others but it's very much in earnest.

  So, each day, Huckaby drives down from his mother-in law's place north of here passing through areas that he recognizes to don his gear and demonstrate his competency. It's the type of spring he's used to, really, and he's always been a survivor. That part of baseball is familiar ground to him as well.