Huber Hungry for New Start in 2005

These days, these long winter days in the months leading up to the start of spring training, Seattle Mariners farmhand Jon Huber spends his waking hours working against a different type of opposition.

Away from the baseball diamond, the tall right-hander doesn't worry about mowing down batter after batter. What he does have on his mind, however, is flower after flower.

Huber, who resides in Cape Coral, Florida during the offseason, has woken up at 5 a.m. each weekday since the Arizona Fall League wrapped up. The reason? His day job, watering flowers and managing the gardens at Kelly Greens Golf and Country Club in Fort Meyers, Florida.

"It's a cake job, really," says Huber, an easy-going guy acquired by Seattle from San Diego in the deadline-day trade involving Dave Hansen this past July. "I just water flowers and BS with my old high school baseball coach."

The coach is only one part of the equation, though. Jimmy Miller, a neighbor of Huber's in their younger years and a right-hander in the Colorado Rockies organization, is the other piece of the puzzle.

They've spent their days together this offseason, reunited after years apart, talking baseball while earning money. Not a bad gig, really.

The golf course job is only the start of the average day for Huber, a warmup to a training regimen he has kept all offseason. After Kelly Greens, he heads home for some down time and a bite to eat, then to the gym for an hour-and-a-half or so.

Staying in shape this winter has been one of his top priorities and, this being his fifth offseason as a professional, he believes he's found the appropriate way to do so after tinkering with his training system over each of the previous winters.

The key for the 6-foot-2, hard-throwing righty is to keep his arm fresh with light throwing sessions on a regular basis.

"What I do now is I start throwing twice a week just to shake off some rust," said Huber, who meets up with a former San Diego farmhand to get the work in. "We just play catch, 60 feet, and do that every now and then. I usually start in December, but this year I played in the AFL so I didn't start until January.

If there was ever a time to give his body a little added rest, it was this winter. Huber pitched 132 innings between High-A Lake Elsinore and High-A Inland Empire in 2004 before spending a month in Arizona playing for the Mariners' AFL affiliate.

By the end of it all, he was ready for some time off. And while his love for baseball is unquestionable, he isn't afraid to admit so.

"More than anything I was mentally drained," he said. "I played 8 months. I wasn't burned out with baseball, my body was just telling me I needed to shut it down."

Now more rested and rejuvenated with February right around the corner and winter soon turning into spring (thank the Man Upstairs for that!), Huber feels as good as he has in a long time heading into the 2005 season.

It'll be his first spring in Seattle's organization, his first full go-around as a Mariner minor leaguer. It will also be a new opportunity to start with a clean slate, so to speak, and make a good impression on his new team.

With the 66ers for the final two months of last season, he never really was able to show what he was fully capable of. That can be attributed to many things, most of which reside between his ears.

"I was real excited when (the trade) happened," said Huber. "It was a new opportunity to start over. It was new buddies, new friends, a chance to start all over and take what I learned from San Diego's system and bring it over.

"Then I started to put more pressure on myself, trying to find my place on a team I'd been playing against all season. I think I put too much pressure on myself."

All that did was hamper his production on the mound, a place where he had excelled during the first half of the season under the direction of Lake Elsinore pitching coach and former major leaguer Mike Harkey.

Using his 90-95 MPH fastball to get ahead of batters, Huber went 8-6 with a 3.70 ERA in 20 starts at Lake Elsinore. With the Storm, he developed a slider with help from Harkey, the fourth-pick overall in the 1987 draft (three picks after Ken Griffey Jr.).

Huber says he became more comfortable with the slider over the course of the season, and hopes to continue to improve on the new pitch in the future. Even with a good array of offspeed pitches, he still sees himself as a guy who will go right at you.

"I'm a power pitcher," Huber said. "I'm going to go at you with a fastball. I throw a fastball, slider, curveball and changeup.

"My out pitch has always been my curve ball. That's what I'll usually go at you with when I'm ahead in the count."

As for the other pitch, the changeup?

"The Mariners really stressed using my changeup," said Huber. "They said to use it in the fall league and get some confidence in it."

He says the month in Arizona did just that.

The hope now is that his improved slider and changeup can strengthen his effectiveness on the mound come March, when minor leaguers report to spring training.

Huber knows, though, that'll be only half the battle. The other half lies in his head, an area he credits Harkey for helping him with.

"I can't say enough about that guy," the right-hander said of his former pitching coach. "I always was worried about my mechanics and how I threw, and when (Harkey) got a hold of me he said, ‘You are mechanically sound. That is not your problem. Your problem is between your ears and you need to learn how to approach hitters on the mound.'"

In seven appearances with the 66ers in 2004, Huber finished the season 4-1 with a 6.12 ERA. He's confident those numbers will improve in his second year in the M's system, and at the same time he feels a renewed confidence in how he's viewed by the club he plays for. As a member of the Padres early last season, he didn't always feel that way.

Boy have times changed.

"My agent talked to Seattle and they were really happy with me," Huber said. "They want to see me improve my fastball command to each side of the plate, and get ahead with the fastball. That's the biggest focus. I'm just going to go out there and relax and just pitch the way I know I can."

Until then, he's taking it one flower at a time.

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