ARLINGTON, Texas — Given the red rally thong he has been wearing proudly around the Giants' clubhouse, it's rather, um, obvious Aubrey Huff isn't hiding much these days.
And certainly not the joy the former longtime Ray feels about finally reaching the postseason spotlight after wading through 10 years of losing that had him on the brink of retirement.
"This," Huff said, "is the ultimate deal."
To fully understand why Huff is so excited to be here — and, as an aside, even more excited to be in Texas, where he grew up rooting for the Rangers and idolizing Nolan Ryan — you have to comprehend his journey.
Huff spent 6½-plus seasons with the Rays and most of three more with the Orioles, without getting anywhere, those 10 teams finishing last eight times and fourth twice.
And when he did get moved, that didn't work out, either. The Rays sent him in July 2006 to the Astros, and they came up 1 1/2 games short of winning their division. Then the Orioles sent him in August 2009 to the Tigers, and they went to a 163rd game and lost their division title to the Twins. Huff's 1,479 games without reaching the postseason were the third most of any active player.
"You get to that point in your career and you start thinking, 'These baseball gods are pretty harsh,' " Huff said. "You're just grinding it out, trying to stay in there mentally. Ultimately, this is a kids' game, and you've got to keep telling yourself that, especially when it's been going so bad for so long."
In retrospect, the parts of eight seasons Huff spent with the Rays organization were a professional blessing and an emotional curse.
The chance to move through the minor leagues to the big leagues in a little more than two years and establish himself as an everyday player by his fourth season of pro ball was an opportunity he might not have gotten elsewhere.
"For me, it was a great situation coming up to be able to come into an organization where there was not really a whole lot going on and I can go right through the minor leagues and get my experience," he said.
But the experience of losing as much as the Rays did — an average of 99 for each of his six full seasons — wore heavily on him, and his frustration seeped out until he got out. (And it has stuck with him. Despite the relatively good numbers he put up on those bad Rays teams, he gets booed upon his return to the Trop; "I guess I'm the poster boy, the whipping boy for those years," he said.)
"It was like, thank God I didn't know any better," Huff said. "If you spent some time in a place like this (the Giants) and then you went (to the losing Rays) for six years, I don't think anybody could have made it; they'd lose their mind. I just didn't know any better."
Sitting on the couch in his Tampa house this past January without a job, Huff didn't know what was next, wondering whether at 33 — with a wife, a growing family (two sons now), $37 million in career earnings, plans for a dream house in Colorado — he was done.
Then he got a call from the Giants, committed himself to reporting in great shape on a one-year, $3 million contract and made the most of what turned out to be a perfect match.
Huff has given the Giants a most-valuable-player kind of season, leading them in almost every offensive category, hitting third and playing three positions — first base, rightfield and leftfield — and providing leadership in the clubhouse.
And they have given him something more valuable, a chance to experience the sensations and success of the postseason.
"I was on the verge of not really wanting to play anymore, to be honest with you, but things worked out for a reason," Huff said. "And everything I went through for those years, I'd do it all again in heartbeat to get to do this again."
The Giants couldn't be more pleased to have him, from how he has contributed with his bat and glove to his antics, sense of humor and choice of undergarments in the clubhouse.
"He's a character," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He has a way of keeping the guys loose with the way he does things. He's very excited about having this opportunity. He went a long time before this year getting to the playoffs.
"And he's having fun with it."
More, it's a safe guess, than we know.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]