John Hussey: Third Time’s a Charm
Photo by Brad Hand
By Mike Couzens/Tincaps Blog
Imagine working through your youth to get to your dream job. Now imagine quitting that dream job. That’s what John Hussey did.
Why did he quit? That’s simple. He didn’t enjoy it anymore.
The thing is, he quit doing something that 99% of the world’s population will never do: play a professional sport. And that’s how he ended up on the restricted list. More on that later.
In contractual terms, Hussey didn’t report to fulfill the duties of his job as a professional baseball player. But within, the job of a professional baseball player didn’t fulfill him.
In order to enter the world of pro baseball, Hussey had to make a choice at age 17. Go to play baseball on scholarship at the University of Hawaii, which the Australian native had never visited, or sign with the San Diego Padres after being scouted by, among others, Randy Smith, who is now Vice President Player Development/International Scouting for San Diego.
“(The Padres) saw me pitch a few times at various national championships, underage championships, and a few times at world championships when I was younger and I pitched well at the right time and got a chance to come (to the United States) which was a dream come true for me at the time,” Hussey said.
He’d visited Japan, China, Taiwan, Palau and Guam, but had never been to the U.S. “It wasn’t too much of an adjustment,” he said. “You guys speak English, we speak English.”
In 2005, when Hussey was 18, he played in his first professional game as a member of the Padres Arizona League team. It was in 2007 when he made his debut with the Fort Wayne Wizards, and he was the losing pitcher in his first five starts.
How does he remember that year?
“Not too good at all in Fort Wayne,” Hussey said. “I had just come off a good year in Arizona. Being so young, I started having control issues. I started trying to throw strikes, rather than just leaning back and throwing the ball. I didn’t deal too well with the failure that came with it. I got hit all right, but my biggest killer was walks. I just walked a lot of people. I got then demoted down to Eugene and my control issues were still there.”
He had Tommy John surgery in 2008, which kept him off the field for the entire season. It wasn’t until 2010 when he returned to Fort Wayne. New arm, new team, new stadium. But after 12 games, the passion that he first had as a 17-year-old wasn’t there anymore.
“I wasn’t enjoying baseball at the time. I fell out of love with the game. I really wanted to go to school, as well. I felt like I had nothing to fall back on after baseball. I know not everyone’s like that, but that was playing in the back of my mind a lot. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do after baseball. It was a bit of a task for me to come to the ballpark every day. When you’re like that, it‘s not good for yourself, your teammates, or the organization. As soon as those doubts start running in your head, you’ve got no shot.”
“I had played baseball or been professional since I was 17. I had never really had a job,” Hussey said. “I didn’t realize what a real job was like and how lucky baseballers are to come out here and do it every day. Even days when you’re grinding and you think ‘Oh, this ain’t great being at the ballpark’, as baseball can get sometimes because it’s such a long season, you have to stop and think that this is pretty fun compared to most jobs out there.”
Hussey exercised a luxury that so many will never get—the opportunity to walk away. When dimples turn to wrinkles and college classrooms turn to boardrooms, bills accumulate, there are mouths to feed and mortgages to pay. A job is a necessity. That wasn’t the case for 23-year-old John Hussey, who decided he was going back to college to study exercise science.
This came as a surprise to the Padres, especially to Smith, who had helped bring Hussey into the organization.
“We were a little disappointed when Huss left,” Smith said. “When he went home, the game wasn’t right for him at that particular time. He was a guy that we liked.”
Other than the occasional beer league baseball game, Hussey says he didn’t think much about the sport for two years. He gained an appreciation for the strength and conditioning coaches who had worked with him during his time in Peoria, Arizona, and Eugene, Oregon, and Fort Wayne. But as the doubts regarding his success had crept into his head at age 23, further doubts about his decision entered his mind at age 25.
“I was thinking ‘Did you make the right decision?’ I would’ve hated for that to be in the back of my mind 20-30 years down the track. I didn’t think about it too much until I started playing again at a competitive level and having some success and then I thought, ‘Did I make the right decision?’”
Perhaps struck by the words of Henry David Thoreau, who said, “Never look back unless you are planning to go that way,” Hussey got back in the game.
In the winter of 2012 he played with the Melbourne Aces of the Australian Baseball League, finding that he enjoyed pitching once again. The fire had returned. Hussey drew interest from scouts, but they soon realized they couldn’t sign him.
“One guy who scouts down there told me, ‘Hey, you know San Diego still has you on a restricted list. We can’t do anything about it.’ It was two-and-a-half years later, so it was a little weird that I was still on the restricted list,” Hussey said.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, the restricted list is, “A compendium of players who are out of organized baseball but are not free agents. A team can request that a player be placed on the restricted list if that player has left the team without a valid reason, or has announced his intention to retire but is still of an age or level of skill that could allow him to return to professional baseball in the future.”
Strangely enough, out of all the questions Hussey asked himself, the ones that reverberated around his head, he never asked San Diego why it hadn’t just let him loose.
“I have absolutely no idea…It’s strange that they did. I’m happy they did,” Hussey said. “I really wouldn’t have wanted to play for anyone else. San Diego (has) been so good to me throughout my career. I’m extremely happy that I do have the chance to come back and play for that organization.”
Smith said restricted list decision was simple–the team kept Hussey there in the hope that he would at some point return to baseball.
“We wanted to make sure that if he ever decided to give it another go, that we would be the team he would do it with.”
Now the decision was Hussey’s—jump back into baseball, knowing that it might not work out, or live with that regret—the one that could be there 20 or 30 years later—living in the back of his mind.
“I just called up a guy within San Diego,” Hussey said, “asked about my restricted status, and they said, ‘Well, you wouldn’t be calling if you weren’t interested in coming back. Are you interested in coming back?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m keen.’ They said, ‘Do you want to come to spring training?’ I said, ‘I’ll have to chat with my folks and have a chat with them.’ And they said, ‘What’s there to think about? They’ll be fine with it.’ It was that quick.”
After some visa paperwork and a half-month stay at extended spring training in Arizona, Hussey found himself back in Fort Wayne when reliever Tayron Guerrero went on the disabled list. This time instead of a new arm, it was new outlook for the former Wizard.
“I just hope this works out for him, whether he gets all the way to the big leagues or takes it as far as he can go, at least he’s going to have no regrets when he’s older. At least he’s able to come back and give it everything he’s got,” Smith said.
Editor’s note: – look to John receiving an early promotion to the Padres High A team – Lake Elsinore Storm