In preparation for his final season on the Middletown High School baseball team, senior pitcher-shortstop-outfielder Chris Huffman took his customary physical. The results of that annual test, however, were anything but usual.
“They told me I might have a heart murmur,” Huffman said. “Then I went to a cardiologist and he said I had a coronary artery anomaly. Then they confirmed it. They said my coronary artery was in the wrong place and they need to move it so my heart doesn't collapse.”
As troubling as that discovery was, it probably was rivaled to some degree by what else the cardiologist told Huffman — his senior season would be spent entirely in the dugout.
“It's an anomaly so they don't know what could happen,” Huffman said. “Not playing baseball is just a precaution. It really sucks.”
Huffman's affiliation with the Knights program remains strong, but in a different capacity, namely, as a student assistant coach, where he fills in with everything from keeping score to relaying strategic information to Middletown coach Andy Baker.
“He couldn't be on the field but that didn't mean he couldn't be a valuable part of our team, and he has been,” Baker said. “He'll pick up equipment or whatever needs to be done. He'll keep the scorebook, work the scoreboard and the audio stuff and he picks up things in the game just like an assistant coach. He's looking for things we can do to switch the momentum of the game. He's another set of eyes. He's another assistant coach, just a little bit younger.
“I know for fact after conversations with him and his family, it was devastating for him but he has never once sat down and pouted and wanted sympathy. He doesn't even like to talk about it. He's channeled it into a different direction to help his team in another way.”
Serving in this role, while not the same as playing, has been therapeutic for Huffman, said one of his best friends on the team, Nick Rabat.
“One of his biggest dreams was to pitch in the state championship game in his senior year, so he was really bummed about that [but] he's like a really big voice in the dugout,” Rabat said. “He cheers and yells just like one of us, he's just not on out on the field with us. He's like an assistant coach and he really enjoys himself. He enjoys being there. He enjoys being around it.”
Huffman, who went 2-0 on the mound and batted .244 with five runs batted in a year ago, agreed with Rabat. In fact, Huffman said he hopes to find himself in a similar role later in life.
“It's been pretty fun,” said Huffman, who began playing baseball at age 4 after watching the 1993 movie “The Sandlot.” “What I want to do is be a coach so it's a good learning experience on becoming a coach and learning pitching technique.”
Huffman isn't quite ready to turn the page on his playing career just yet. In fact, if all goes well when he has surgery June 21 at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Huffman plans to try out for a spot on the Frederick Community College baseball team.
“It's three months of recovery, so isn't as long as Tommy John [elbow] surgery,” Huffman said. “It's tough going through but I should be able to play.”