MILWAUKEE -- Jeff Huson and Jeff Manto are very similar. Both are 30 years old. Both have bounced around the minor leagues. Both have thought about quitting the game in recent years, even when they've been sure they can play in the majors.
Huson, in fact, briefly thought about ending his career earlier this month, the culmination of 2 1/2 years of frustration and two months away from his family. But Sunday night, Huson got a reprieve; he was called up by the Orioles, after Manto pulled a hamstring muscle and was placed on the disabled list.
Huson and John DeSilva, called up in place of injured pitcher Gene Harris, joined the team in Milwaukee yesterday. Huson will be used in a utility role, filling in at second or as a pinch runner, and DeSilva will start tonight against the Brewers.
One of the first players Huson ran into yesterday morning was Manto, at the restaurant in the team's hotel. "I told him I was sorry for what happened to him," said Huson, "because I understand where he's coming from. Here's a guy who got a chance, made the most of it, and then perseveres. He'll be back."
Huson wasn't so sure if he would be back in the majors. He played three full seasons for the Texas Rangers, from 1990 to 1992. But injuries limited him to 23 major-league games in 1993, and he spent the entire '94 season at Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Huson signed a Triple-A contract with the Orioles during the off-season, and worked out in the minor-league camp this spring while the major-leaguers were on strike. Orioles manager Phil Regan said there was a chance he would keep Huson when the season started.
But Huson went to Triple-A Rochester, where he played second and short and missed his wife and kids, who live in Texas. He also watched as Junior Noboa, a longtime minor-league teammate of his when both came up through the Montreal system, retired from the game; Noboa simply couldn't play anymore, which didn't make Huson feel any younger.
So when Huson's wife visited Rochester earlier this month, he brought up the possibility of retiring. "She's the one who talked me out of it," Huson said. "She said, 'You know you can still play in the big leagues, and I don't want you to come home and then in a month regret your decision.' "
Huson wasn't frustrated with the Orioles' failure to bring him to the big leagues. He was just frustrated that he wasn't in the big leagues, period, something that Manto felt over the past few years. He had been an established major-leaguer, and was sure he could still be that.
Huson asked himself, as he played for Oklahoma City and Rochester the last two years: How many times do you beat your head against the wall before you get in?
But Sunday night, he went to a cookout held by Red Wings teammates Frank Seminara and John Dettmer, and they gave him the good news. Rochester manager Marv Foley was looking for Huson, because he was going back to the majors.
"The way I look at it," Huson said, "is that I don't know what I'm going to do here. I don't know what their plans are for me. But if I'm here for two weeks, I made it back. A lot of people didn't think I could make it back."