"Give it two more weeks, give it a chance," Huff remembers her saying. "You have a scholarship, this is always what you wanted to do. Imagine how bad you'd feel if you did give up. Give it two more weeks. If you still want to come home, you can come home."
Within days, he was invited to a baseball party. He bonded with teammates.
"And I never looked back," he said.
Huff excelled on the field at Miami, earning second-team All-America honors and setting the school record for RBIs (95) as a junior. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays selected him in the fifth round in the 1998 draft, and he began his quick ascent to the majors, making his big league debut two years after being drafted.
Perhaps more important, Huff said the Miami experience helped him "come out of my shell." He always had an inner confidence, but his outward shyness eroded.
He considers himself outgoing now, a guy who likes to clown around with friends, teammates and family. And though he'll never be comfortable in the middle of the media spotlight, he likes being the center of attention among buddies.
That's how his wedding-singer career began.
A few years ago, he "had some cocktails" at a friend's wedding and was coaxed into belting out a country karaoke song. A legend was born.
"I just went off with it for the whole two hours," he said. "All the old people loved it."
Now, every time he goes to a wedding, his friends make him sing. He has no formal training, but a voice strong enough to record the John Michael Montgomery tune "Letters from Home" for the 2005 CD Oh Say Can You Sing that featured 10 crooning ballplayers.
And, last month, at his own wedding, Huff serenaded his bride, Baubi, with "Cross My Heart" by his personal favorite, George Strait. "I wasn't really expecting it, but I kind of had a feeling it was going to happen," Baubi Huff said. "I was ecstatic, shocked. It was the best wedding gift he could have given me."
Transfer of duties
Now that Huff is married, his mom is taking a retirement of sorts. She's keeping her job as an honors geometry teacher in the St. Petersburg area, but will no longer be Huff's unofficial accountant, secretary and bill-payer.
"His wife can do all that stuff now," she said jokingly.
She also won't be as visible at her son's home games in Baltimore the way she was in Tampa Bay. She'll visit this summer, but she won't be living there. Not like in 1999, when she risked a move to Florida's West Coast after her daughter decided that's where she wanted to attend college. Mom didn't want to be left behind in Texas.
The decision was made even though there was no guarantee that her son, in Double-A at the time, would make the big leagues. It was the same faith she exhibited years earlier when financing that batting cage.
Within a year, Huff was playing in Tampa Bay and his mom was a ubiquitous presence at Tropicana Field. She was the rarest of creatures, a rabid Devil Rays fan. So rabid that on the day her pregnant daughter went into labor, Fonda Huff told Angela that she wouldn't take her to the hospital until the Rays game on TV was over.
It was already in the fifth inning, she figured, and Angela, as a first-time mother, would surely have a lengthy labor.
"That was so wrong that I had to wait for the game to be over," Angela said with a laugh.
Again, though, Fonda Huff was right. Her granddaughter wasn't born for another 11 hours - well before the next Rays game.
That has been the family's pattern. Trust Mom. And things will work out, through unthinkable tragedy and cross-country moves.
"My mom is a special lady," Huff said. "It took a lot of heart doing what she did, raising us two and being able to raise us like any other normal kid."
Without any regrets.
Without a doubt.