This was going to be a story about how the knuckleball has become all the rage thanks to the Mets’ R.A. Dickey. The local peg? One former Royal used the pitch to try and salvage his career.
A website compiled a list of knuckleball pitchers and identified Rick Huisman as having toyed with the pitch.
“I saw that, too,” Huisman said by phone from Michigan. “I’m sorry, but that’s not right. I’m not sure how they got my name.”
OK, so now this is a blog post catching up on a former Royal. But it’s also an interesting tale of overcoming adversity.
While it wasn’t quite a cup of coffee, Huisman had a brief stay in the majors, appearing in 29 games with the Royals in 1995-96. It’s a time he fondly remembers.
“What can I say?” Huisman said. “Just like any great thing, you want more of it, but ultimately, I’m very proud to be a member of the Kansas City Royals for that time frame.” While Huisman had one save in his career (a three-inning save against Seattle in 1996), his lasting memory of being a Royal came before he ever pitched in the majors.
“I got called up from Omaha and came to Kansas City,” Huisman recalled. “We had one home game and then flew out that night to play a series in Texas. The first time I took a step into the Ballpark in Arlington, Jeff Montgomery and I played catch together, and that’s a memory that will always be with me.”
Despite a short stay in the majors, the Royals were in the playoff hunt in his first season.
On Sept. 5, 1995, the Royals were 62-58 and held a half-game lead in wild-card standings. But they stumbled down the stretch, going 8-16 while the Yankees surged past them and won the wild card after finishing the season by winning 19 of their last 23 games.
As late as Sept. 18, the Royals were just 1.5 games out of the wild-card spot (behind Seattle which eventually won the West), but a 2-10 stretch to finish the season ended any hopes.
“There was a small possibility that if we played well in September, we had a chance of getting in the playoffs," he said. "It was right on the edge.
Missing out on the playoffs was disappointing, but just making it to the majors was an impressive accomplishment for Huisman.
A third-round pick of the Giants in 1990, Huisman was a stud in the minors. According to MiLB.com, Huisman led the California in wins (16), ERA (1.83), strikeouts (216), shutouts (four) and winning percentage (.800 with a 16-4 record) in 1991.
“That was an incredible season,” Huisman said. “I can’t even describe what it was like to do some of those things. The next year I was pitching well at Double-A, got called up to Triple-A and felt like it was a matter of time before I’d be able to play at the big-league level with the Giants.
“I’ll never forget it. It was a 3-2 pitch in the seventh inning in Triple-A and I just let it go and I felt something in my shoulder. The next morning I couldn’t even hardly take a shower and wash my hair. I knew there was something wrong with my shoulder.”
Huisman had off-season surgery and was told he’d never be the same pitcher. Rather than quit, he buckled down and eventually got a chance with the Royals.
Now 43 years old, Huisman is executive director for Boys and Girls Club in Grand Rapids, Mich. While his days are spent watching his kids play baseball, Huisman would love to be back at Kauffman Stadium next week. Not as a player, but as a fan for the All-Star Game.
It’s unlikely to happen, but Huisman will be content to watch on TV. And the memories of playing at Kauffman Stadium likely will return.
“The opportunity to play at the major-league level and to fulfill a dream you’ve had as a little kid, there’s no doubt about it, it was some of the best days of my life as a professional baseball player,” Huisman said.
“For me, just playing in major-league baseball parks that I grew up watching on TV, that probably sat out more than anything else. Being able to play at The Cell (U.S. Cellular Field) in Chicago and having family and friends there in the stands watching me play. Playing at Fenway and Yankee Stadium, and one of the fine gems of all the major leagues that is kind of a hidden jewel is Kauffman Stadium.
“Those were some of the greatest days of my life.”
| Pete Grathoff, firstname.lastname@example.org