Good Sports: ND's Huff carving out his place in pro baseball
Good Sports is a column featured weekly in the Southeast Missourian and on semoball.com. It is primarily designed to showcase people who have impacted the sporting life of Southeast Missouri, so that readers may get to know them more fully. Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Today: Noah Huff, 23, former Notre Dame Regional High School state wrestling qualifier, now an athletic trainer in baseball’s Oakland Athletics organization, assigned to the Dominican Republic. Noah’s father, Deacon Robb Huff, is the current Head of Schools (superintendent) of St. Vincent DePaul in Perryville.
Take us through your personal athletic history, please.
I wrestled for the Bulldogs four years under former coach Marc Stevener at 120 pounds and was a state qualifier three times. After finishing high school in 2015, I got a partial scholarship at the University of Mary in Bismarck and ended up in the 141-pound weight class up there. I got my degree last summer and spent some of this past winter helping coach Notre Dame’s wrestling team.
Was North Dakota a bit of a culture shock?
You know what the weather is like in Southeast Missouri but up there, it’s not unusual for the temperature (not the wind chill, mind you) to drop to minus-20. I have to say in Bismarck, where I was, people are really nice. It’s a super small town feel there.
MSHSAA, the Missouri State High School Activities Association, reports a growing trend toward more student-athletes specializing in only one sport.
Not me. I ran track, played soccer and wrestled. Ironically, given what I do now, I did not play baseball for the Bulldogs.
Why athletic training?
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I had early acceptance into the doctoral program but sensed it wasn’t my calling. Being in a clinic all day as opposed to the adrenalin of practice or a game? Well, there was no comparison. At Notre Dame, David Enderle was a trainer. When I saw (Enderle) working, I thought this could be a career for me. I knew I wanted to stay in sports somehow, whether it be in sports medicine, physical therapy or athletic training. Since my sophomore year at the University of Mary, where I graduated in 2019, I did clinical education, rotations we call them, with trainers.
Take us through how you ended up with A’s.
Last summer, I did a post-graduation internship with the Kansas City Royals.
I didn’t travel with the team but was in the regular season clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals led me to the A’s.
Were you a little starstruck?
It was super nerve-wracking at first because these were men I’d seen on TV. As time went on, it became a job. Anyway, the Royals is how I ended up in baseball. It’s been a whirlwind. North Dakota to Kansas City to getting hired by the A’s full-time, all in a matter of a few months.
You are in the Dominican working with who?
In that part of the world, players can be on the field almost year-round and if they’re doing that, they need trainers. All 30 major league clubs have a presence in the D.R. The A’s opened their complex January 13. Of course, we’re in wait-and-see mode now because of COVID-19 and I’m back in Cape for the moment.
How are the A’s making use of you?
The A’s have an academy in La Victoria, near the capital of Santo Domingo. Whenever we can get going again, I’ll work with the A’s Dominican summer league team. Those fellas hit hard and throw hard and are young. I get involved with arm care, putting pitchers through shoulder exercises. With position players, there are therapeutic exercises for body aches and soreness. I’m busy as are the other trainers. In the afternoon, I can be spotted playing catch with a guy who may be in a throwing program recovering from injury. There’s always plenty to do.
There is a language barrier, I imagine.
Somewhat. I took Spanish at Notre Dame. I’m helping the Latin guys with their English, which they’ll need if they make it to “the show,” and they help me because I need it down there. We use Google Translate when necessary.
What’s been surprising about working in the Dominican?
Each group of guys speaks Spanish differently depending on the country. We’ve got Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, Columbians. I think if you can pick up Dominican Spanish, you can understand any Spanish dialect.
Why do you say that?
The Dominicans speak much faster. They shorten their words and use slang. Their dialect is a hard thing to pick up.
Baseball has been idled. Forgive the indelicacy of this question but are you still getting paid?
Yes, I’m full-time salaried and get a paycheck. The A’s told us they’ll try to pay us until the end of May but with everything up in the air, who knows what will happen? I’m still working remotely, you might say, because I check in with players weekly via an app.
I think I can guess your long-term goal.
I see a route to the major leagues. You start out at the bottom, prove yourself and work your way up. It’s that way all over, not just in sports. It’ll take me awhile, but I hope to be in a big league clubhouse within 5-to-8 years.