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Slugger Luke Hughes ready to fire for the Heat

LUKE Hughes has been through a whole raft of ups and downs as a professional sportsman.

After biding his time in the US minor leagues for a number of years, his debut in The Big Show was as good as it could get.

In his first at-bat, he crushed American League Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer for a home run, for the Minnesota Twins against Scherzer's Detroit Tigers.

In doing that he became the first Twin to homer in his first at-bat since Andre David in 1984, and the fifth overall.

But Hughes played just one more game in the big leagues after that during the 2010 season.

Then, just two years later, he was released by the Oakland Athletics, with a career average of .218.

Hughes has not played another MLB game, after 106 of them at the highest level.

The ups and down continued after the 30-year-old decided to pull the pin on his big-leagues dream.

He had a "very brief" stint trying to make a name for himself as an Aussie rules footballer for the Subiaco Lions in Perth.

Injury cut that short early on in the piece.

But earlier this year he starred for Team Australia in its upset 5-0 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks in Sydney, producing an impressive two-for-three at the plate with the bat.

Hughes is keen to continue his giant-killing form over the summer for the wildly-successful Perth Heat in the Australian Baseball League.

APN sports reporter Josh Spasaro chats with Luke Hughes:

How are you feeling? Fresh and fired up for another big ABL season?

Definitely. I've got a lot of pride in the ABL and I really enjoy my role at the Perth Heat as an assistant fielding coach and ambassador for the younger guys who are aspiring to play in the big leagues overseas.

My body is feeling great, and now that I'm not playing in the US anymore, I'm ready to throw myself into this Australian season.

I'm motivated to help the Perth Heat try to win a fifth title in seven years this season.

You did some coaching at the recent MLB Academy on the Gold Coast. What was that like, and how serious are you about coaching once you retire?

It was my first time coaching at the academy and I loved it. We're talking about 15-year-old boys and girls and they are so professional.

If they keep working hard, they won't be too far off playing in the top leagues.

I'm keen to learn as much as I can with coaching now so I can have it as an option when I retire.

How did you feel about not getting offered a contract in the MLB last year, after an impressive career at the top?

It was disappointing. But I had played for five to six teams and by then I was mentally cooked.

But I feel fortunate to have done what I did, and I don't regret anything.

You went to try your hand at some Aussie rules football at the Subiaco Lions after your MLB disappointment. How did that go?

It was very brief. I pulled my groin at the World Baseball Classic (in 2013) and then I re-did it while in pre-season training.

I was playing catch-up, but I did really enjoy it.

(Port Adelaide premiership winner) Jarrad Schofield is the coach and he's a hard nut, and I loved working hard under him.

You hit Max Scherzer - an American League Cy Young award winner and a two-time All Star - for a home run during your first at-bat in the Major League - for Minnesota back in 2010. What was that like?

It was emotional when I got the call-up, especially after telling Mum, Dad and my sister. It was a dream come true just getting the call-up.

I was standing at the plate just telling myself, "don't get struck out here".

But fortunately I got a good pitch to swing at.

You ask any batter, and they'll tell you when they hit a home run, they don't feel it because it comes off so sweetly.

That was the same.

I was rounding the bases afterwards and my teammates were going crazy and clowning around, while I was trying not to laugh.

It meant a lot knowing I had a lot of people watching back home on ESPN.

I actually bumped into Max a year later when we were out at a restaurant in Detroit.

I thought he may have forgotten about it, but he actually came up to me and we both had a laugh about it.

You have played against Derek Jeter (with the legendary Yankee captain to retire this year at 40). What did you respect about him?

His consistency and hard work, which is what's allowed him to play for 20 years.

He embraced everything about the Yankees, from the players, to the coaches, to the front office.

He knew when he first made it how hard he had to work, and he went on and did that.

Playing against him was a lot of fun. You'd talk to him on the bases and he'd slap you on the bum and say "keep going".

What do you put the Heat's success down to in recent years?

Guys like Lachy Dale (general manager) and Geoff Hooker (chairman) have built some solid foundations at this club.

Blokes like Scott Mitchinson and Dan Schmidt have been great pitchers for us, and we always seem to get quality imports who are great for our young guys that want opportunities in the States.

There are so many great personalities who fit into the team and club-first culture here.

Mike Ekstrom, an American with Major League experience, was another pitcher who fired for you guys in his short time out here last summer ...

I played in the same college team with Mike and he was unhittable in the ABL last season.

He's the calibre of player we go for - someone who has a lot of Triple-A level experience and success.

I'm hoping we'll also get Liam Hendriks back here over the summer (Hendriks recently pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays at MLB level).

Having a former Major League veteran and Aussie legend such as Graeme Lloyd as the Heat's pitching coach must be a blessing ...

He won two World Series rings as a player, and he's the only Australian to do that. So he just brings so much respect to the team.

With you being keen on coaching, and the fact you're keen on learning about personal training, it seems like you've got a plan post-retirement ...

You see a lot of athletes struggle with what they want to do even 15 months after they retire, so I'm doing things now which will hopefully help in that transition.

I love coaching and personal training, but hopefully I can play in one more World Baseball Classic.

Topics:  afl mlb perth heat



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