Down Under in Cooperstown
Proving that baseball is an international sport, the 2014 big league season’s opening series has Los Angeles Dodgers taking on the Arizona Diamondbacks in Sydney, Australia, this weekend. Today, Justin Huber, a native of the island nation located southeast of Asia between the Pacific and Indian oceans, has an important piece of his baseball life inside the walls of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
The Cooperstown shrine has among its 40,000 three-dimensional objects a number of artifacts with connections to Australia, which prior to the start of the 2014 season had 28 players throughout major league history who were born in the world’s smallest continent. The list of Australian-born players dates back to Joe Quinn, who debuted in 1884, to Josh Spence, Shane Lindsay and Liam Hendriks, who first saw action in 2011.
First baseman/outfielder Huber, born in Melbourne in 1982, debuted with the Kansas City Royals in mid-June 2005, only weeks prior to being named Most Valuable Player of the Futures Game, part of that year’s All-Star Game Weekend being held at Detroit’s Comerica Park. This would be Huber’s third Futures Game, an annual contest involving the best minor league prospects in the sport.
“It’s an honor to come here and win an award like this,” said Huber, whose pinch-hit double knocked in two runs in the fifth inning as the World Team defeated the United States team, 4-0.
After the game, the 23-year-old Huber donated the bat he used to hit the double, a maple Rawlings 31 ½ inches long and weighing 34 ounces.
A graduate of Beacon Hill College (Victoria, Australia) High School in 2000, Huber signed with the New York Mets as a non-drafted free agent on July 26, 2000. Traded to the Royals in July 2004, the former catcher also spent time in the major leagues with the San Diego Padres (2008) and Minnesota Twins (2009). He has also represented Australia in a number of international tournaments.
In 2008, while with the Padres, he hit his first of only two big league home runs off the towering and intimidating Randy Johnson.
“I don’t really see myself telling stories about this in 10 or 20 years time,” Huber said. “Nobody in Australia knows who Randy Johnson is … It’ll be like, ‘Yeah, good one, congratulations.’”
Huber grew up playing Australian Rules Football, cricket and golf, but was also exposed to baseball at an early age and fell in love with the game. The sport wasn’t available at his high school, but he played with an under-18 national team and got noticed by the Mets.
“For most of my social friends it’s very hard for them to understand,” Huber said. “They could look at a book of baseball stats and not understand a thing.”
Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum