The Lakeside boys baseball team will be on high school’s biggest stage starting Friday, and that’s the perfect spot for Panthers pitcher Hunter Hubbard.
The big right-hander doesn’t mind getting the ball when the lights are the brightest. It’s one of the reasons he tried other sports but concentrated on baseball.
“I played rec basketball, rec football, but that wasn’t really me, you know,” said the 6-foot-1, 240-pound Hubbard. “I’ve always wanted to score for football, they wanted me to be on the line. So I said I’m done with that. Basketball, you want to be the guy leading the show, they wanted me down low, so I said I’m not going to have that, either.
‘‘Of course, everybody’s got to be looking at me,” he said, laughing.
Hubbard answers each question earnestly, but there’s a twinkle in his eye that hints he’s just having fun.
It took Panthers head coach Jay Matthews time to figure Hubbard out.
“At first I don’t know if I took him the right way, kind of like he’s wanting attention, but you know what, that’s Hunter,” said Matthews. “He’s genuinely different, he marches to his own drum, but I don’t think I’d have it any other way now. He’s definitely some of the glue that holds us together. I guess it’s a good trait to have not to care what other people think.”
He’s been playing baseball and been a jokester about the same amount of time.
“I’ve been playing since I was 3 years old,” Hubbard said. “My dad’s always coached me till I was about 10. His name’s Glenn Hubbard, like the old first base coach for the Braves. So growing up, I told all my friends my dad was the first base coach for the Atlanta Braves. Chris Punch, one of our players out there, he believed me until about a month ago,” he said laughing.
When he started playing, baseball was in his blood.
“Once I picked up a ball, I always thought I had a gift with my arm,” Hubbard said. “I thought my arm was one of the best around here. I always knew I could throw it hard, but you know, you’ve got to start working on that curveball to keep them off balance. I never had a problem with being forced to play. I always wanted to come out and practice every day of the week.“
Coming into the season, he thought he’d be a power pitcher, but his velocity wasn’t where he wanted it, so he adapted.
“I’ve got a pretty good curveball, definitely,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in it. Any count, it doesn’t matter if it’s 3-2, 0-2, I’m going to break one off. Hit my spots, throw that curveball for a strike, keep ’em guessing a little bit. It’ll usually work for me.”
While he hopes for a dramatic finish to his high school baseball career before he heads to play for USC Aiken next year, it’s those around him who have helped provide him with the memories he’ll take with him.
“Hopefully we win a state championship this year, but if not, it’s just being here every day with all these great group of guys,” Hubbard said. “They work their tails off and you can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Hubbard plans on playing baseball as long as he can.
“Every kid’s dream is to go pro, but you know, we’re all told in life at a certain age we have to stop playing baseball, so I’m going to keep playing until that day comes.”