Tim Hudson turns to next chapter of his career

The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionMarch 7, 2014 

Reds Giants Spring Basseball

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Hudson throws to the Cincinnati Reds during the first inning of a spring training baseball game in Scottsdale, Ariz., Thursday, March 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

CHRIS CARLSON — AP

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. -- A fact obscured by time, Tim Hudson got the win in his last game with the Braves.

Only the right-hander didn't leave the field with the game ball and a congratulatory handshake. He left on a stretcher.

Hudson is back on the pitcher's mound seven-plus months later with a new uniform and number. The 15-year veteran was not about to leave baseball after suffering a gruesome broken right ankle last July. He is determined to finish his career on his own terms, even if that meant moving on from Atlanta.

"It's always a difficult decision to leave a place you really like and are comfortable in," Hudson said recently, dressed in the orange and black of the San Francisco Giants and wearing No. 17. "That's life. Life is chapters that open and close. I had nine awesome years in Atlanta. I had awesome teammates and I still consider those guys some of my very best friends. Unfortunately that is the nature of the business sometimes."

Hudson's 2013 season ended on July 24 in New York when he was covering first base and the Mets' Eric Young Jr. stepped on his ankle trying to beat out a ground ball. To that point, Hudson had allowed four hits and struck out nine in his 7 2/3 innings, a solid outing.

Despite the injury, when he became a free agent following the season, there was no shortage of suitors. Hudson admitted the market for his services was greater than he thought, particularly for a 38-year-old coming off surgery. While the Braves were among those interested, several teams made offers that could not be ignored. Hudson signed a two-year contract worth $23 million with the Giants.

One chapter closed, another opened.

"Nobody wants to see (the end) come but it has to come eventually," Hudson said. "You can't play forever. You can't manage forever. I think a lot of people anticipated that I would probably retire a Brave. And honestly, in my time in Atlanta, I never really saw myself playing anywhere else either, until it came the time to make the decision.

"I just felt like I had a lot to offer. Once I got confidence that I was going to be healthy and my ankle was going to bounce back and that wasn't going to be a problem, I felt like there was no question. But obviously there were some questions and reservations from Atlanta wondering. Let's be honest, I'm not a kid anymore. It's not like it was a pulled hamstring. It was pretty traumatic.

"We just had to see where we both were. I felt like it was the best thing for me and my family to see what is out there in free agency. It was much better than us and the Braves anticipated probably, the market for me. It was excited to feel wanted by a number of teams in the league and see that level of commitment from somebody who didn't even know me."

Hudson said he had offers from teams in both the American and National leagues teams, even as they examined his medical records. He wanted to stay in the NL and his familiarity with the Bay Area helped seal the deal. Hudson played the first six seasons with Oakland before being traded to the Braves in 2005. His two daughters were born in California.

In his first appearance since the injury, in a Cactus League exhibition debut, Hudson pitched two no-hit innings with a strikeout against the Diamondbacks. He expects to be ready by opening day and said he is close to 100 percent. Pitching and pushing off his ankle are not an issue. He has some hesitation when fielding bunts and coming off the mound on an angle.

The Giants, who won two of the past four World Series with championships in 2010 and 2012, have a young, solid staff that could benefit from Hudson's experience.

"He is a veteran who has been around a long time," pitcher Madison Bumgarner said. "A winner. I was excited when we signed him. He is going to be a tremendous help for us. He is a great pitcher in any ball park but I think he will be great in ours because it's more of a pitcher's park and he is a sinkerball guy. He should have a really good season."

There were two other factors in choosing the Giants and the National League. The decision offered him a chance to return to Atlanta, even as a visitor, to see old friends and play in front of the old fans. After all, he had been one of those fans as a kid, growing up a Braves fan in Alabama. Coming to the Braves offered him the dream of playing for his childhood favorite for nine seasons.

Staying in the NL will also afford Hudson the opportunity to get an at-bat or two during his starts. He said that was a big factor in his decision. Hudson has always been proud of his ability at the plate.

"Let's face it, I rake," he said with a sly smile. "I can knock in some runs for me."

Hudson said his family will remain in Auburn, Ala., and will join him in San Francisco during the summer. He said there will be no change in the Hudson Family Foundation, his charity that serves Georgia and Alabama. They will likely do some additional work in the Bay Area based on previous ties.

"It's not like I've signed an eight-year contract out here," Hudson said. "It could potentially be my last stop but it's not something that is so long term that your family has to make some serious long-term changes."

There are no ill feelings in leaving the Braves. Hudson said one of his favorite memories is the 2010 season, the final year with Bobby Cox as manager and the team's playoff run.

There is one more Atlanta site he wants to eventually visit, perhaps when his playing days are over. Hudson wants to see the Braves' new Cobb County stadium, scheduled to open in 2017. It could come as a player or a fan.

"I'm excited to go to the new stadium and watch a game," Hudson said. "I may be retired by then. It will be cool going and checking out the stadium and watching those guys play one day. I will see what it's like to be on the other side of the fence and rag on the players instead of us getting ragged on."

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