Chad keeping Huffman family tradition alive

EUGENE- Around the Texas Christian University sports community, the last name Huffman is a familiar one.                                  

The family name dates back many decades. Royce Sr. Huffman proudly wore the purple for the Horned Frogs football team as a defensive back and punter from 1969-73. Royce's brothers also attended, and his father, A.J. played football at TCU in the early 1940s.

Next in line was Royce who competed on the TCU football team and baseball team. He was a three-time All-American in baseball before his selection by the Houston Astros organization in 1999. Royce Jr. left TCU as the career leader in at-bats (793), hits (317), RBIs (225), doubles (59), homeruns (44), total bases (528), and walks (158).

The latest Huffman to star at TCU was Chad, the current leftfielder for the Eugene Emeralds' after the Padres nabbed him in the second-round this year. Huffman joins the Padres' organization after spending the summer in the prominent Cape Cod league following an impressive sophomore season with the Horned Frogs in which he led the team with 85 base hits, 12 homeruns, and 53 RBIs. Those numbers came after a freshman season in which Chad was named to the Baseball America and Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America team and the Conference USA Freshman of the Year. That year he surpassed Royce Jr.'s record for hits in a single season with 97.

Like his father, Royce Sr., and brother, Royce., Chad also competed on the gridiron for TCU.

But Chad is now hoping to make Huffman a familiar name within the Padres' organization, and he's done that so far by providing a strong bat in the middle of the lineup. He is currently hitting .260 with seven doubles, four homeruns and a team-leading 18 RBIs in 20 games for the Emeralds.

"It's a blast," Chad said of his first month in professional baseball. "It's everything I thought it would be and better."

Among the normal transitions for players fresh out of the collegiate atmosphere – such as wood bats, long bus rides and games nearly every day – Huffman had another transformation to adapt to in his first professional season this year. He was drafted as a leftfielder despite playing the majority of his time at second base with TCU.

Huffman describes his transition to the outfield as an on-going learning process, one that requires different throws, different reads and a different mindset.

"It's going," Chad said, describing his move to the outfield. "Doug (Dascenzo), he's great at what he does. I've learned so much since I've been here only in a month. The main thing is, you've got to catch it. Sometimes I get turned around a bit, but Doug's helping me on that."

While it will certainly take time for Huffman to master the new position, he has made many key defensive plays this season. For example, he preserved Eugene's 7-4 victory against first-place Salem-Keizer by recording the final out with an acrobatic catch to rob Brett Pill of an extra base hit with two men on.

Dascenzo said he is pleased with Chad's willingness to learn the new position.

"I think he's doing OK," Dascenzo said of Chad's progress. "We haven't really had a lot of time here at home where we can get some extra work done. But anything we've ever talked to him about as far as the outfield play, he's soaked it up like a sponge. He's really excited about learning some more stuff."

Part of the appeal of having Chad in left field is his strong arm, evidenced by his role last fall as the backup quarterback on TCU's football squad – a career that ended in bittersweet fashion when he was forced to leave the team to pursue a career in baseball.

But, Chad said, he'll always be able to look back on his football career with only fond memories. He recalled the Horned Frogs monumental victory on the road against perennial power Oklahoma in 2005. In his two years with the program, TCU won 16 games and lost just 7.

He also recalled many personal memories such as his first collegiate touchdown, a 19-yard run on national television in the fourth quarter of a 48-10 victory at Air Force. He tallied 30 total yards rushing that game and was 2-of-4 passing for 24 yards.

"Obviously, it's disappointing," Chad said of his decision to hang up the pads with two years of eligibility remaining. "You play the game your entire life. But this is the right decision. There comes a time in everybody's life when you have to give something up that you love. Football – I love the sport to death, but this is where my career will be, hopefully."

While the football career is behind him, Huffman said he does believe the mental and physical grind of playing two sports in college has helped him prepare for the 76-game schedule and long bus rides of professional baseball. Being a two-sport athlete meant his off-season lasted ten days, if he was lucky. And in those ten days, he was usually found in the gym.

"Playing two sports in college is tough to do. Every single day I had something to do," Chad revealed. "My freshman year it took a toll on me physically, then I got used to it. Then it started to get more mental. All my football friends had spring break, and all my baseball friends during football season were like ‘we're going out of town.' But, I couldn't. I had a game. But it was an experience I would never take back."

Having Royce go through essentially the same experience has also been a blessing for Chad. Royce Jr., primarily a first baseman, was drafted in the 12th round of the 1999 draft by the Astros and is currently with the Round Rock Express, the Astros Triple-A affiliate in the Pacific Coast League. He is hitting just a shade under .300 for the first-place Express.

Chad has been able to witness his brother's successes and failures through professional baseball first hand and pick up a little advice along the way. Chad said he spent a week with Royce at Triple-A prior to joining the Emeralds.

"He said, it's a grind, stay with it. Sometimes you're going to have a 0-for-4 game, those are going to happen. You are going to struggle," Chad said of the advice he's taken from Royce. The two talk nearly every day. "He just helped me with that and just everything. It kind of gave me an expectation coming into pro ball."

The relationships Chad shares with both of his brothers Royce and Scott, a former football and baseball standout at Rice University, are ones he cherishes. He is quick to name both atop his list of role models. But, of course, having two athletic and ultra-competitive brothers sure made life interesting for Chad while growing up. Scott is eight years older than Chad and Royce is five years his senior.

"I got beat up a lot," Chad joked. "But I think it was good for me. Luckily, they are good enough brothers to let me play even though they hit me just as hard as they hit anybody else. But it was good just to learn and compete with older competition that was obviously way better than you."

Royce saw their childhood a little differently.

"I don't think we were really that hard on him. He's probably over-exaggerating a little bit," Royce said. "But he was always the little guy who wanted to play so we'd let him, but we wouldn't take it easy on him. We'd pound him if we got the chance. I think that made him a little better of an athlete and more competitive."

So, now that the two are in professional baseball, how does Royce compare himself to Chad?

"I think that Chad probably has a little more pop than I do, especially at this stage in his career," Royce said. "I'm probably a better hits guy, average-wise, than he is. Other than that, I think we're pretty similar."

Royce also mentioned that when he talked to Eugene hitting instructor Matt Howe, a former teammate at TCU, Howe said he sees many similarities between the two brothers in terms of mannerisms and style of play.

Regardless of comparisons he may draw to Royce, family remains Chad's biggest support system.

"My family's been a big inspiration for me," Chad admitted. "My parents, I don't think they've said anything negative to me. It's always positive. Even if I go 0-for-300, they're still going to be behind me and supporting me."

Huffman's parents, Royce Sr. and Debbie, have been along for every step of the way for each one of their son's athletic careers. They made frequent trips to watch countless high school and collegiate games and recently attended Eugene's Civic Stadium to witness their first live game of Chad's professional career. The couple also rarely misses the broadcasts of Royce Jr.'s or Chad's games.

"Thank goodness for the Internet. With the time zones, we can get Royce on first and when that game's about over, we can turn the Emeralds on," a proud Royce Sr. said.

While his family stays close to Chad's heart, when he was asked if he was secretly hoping to be drafted by the Astros to join his brother in the same organization, Chad, who was born in Missouri City, less than 30 minutes from Houston, said, "To be honest with you, I bought a Padres hat two months before the draft, just because I liked the Padres. I heard the Padres call my name, and I was ecstatic. That's the team I want to be with."

That's a good thing for the Padres' organization.

"He's coming along nicely," Dascenzo said. "What I am impressed with Chad Huffman is his intensity and focus. He really locks it in, and he's really into the game. I think that tells you a lot about the individual himself."

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