This is the fifth and final profile of the members of the class of 2010 for the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame.
By STEPHANIE PEDERSEN
Former Auburn baseball coach Hal Baird called it the greatest season ever played by a college baseball player. The statistics are almost gaudy: a .396 batting average with 95 RBIs, 18 home runs, a 15-2 record on the mound with 165 strikeouts and a 2.97 ERA.
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Tim Hudson was that kind of college athlete in 1997, winning the Rotary Smith Award as the nation’s best college baseball player. He beat J.D. Drew (Florida State) and Lance Berkman (Rice). He was the first Southeastern Conference player to win the award and was the first player to take All-American honors at two positions: center field and pitcher.
Hudson's future didn’t seem as bright 17 years ago, when he finished his senior year at Glenwood.
Standing near 5-foot-11 and weighing around 145 pounds, Hudson didn;t get any looks from Division I colleges, but Chattahoochee Valley Community College gave the local kid a chance. It was there that Hudson started garnering some attention.
A two-time team MVP, conference MVP and junior college All-American, Hudson went on to sign with Auburn University and play professional baseball with the Oakland Athletics and Atlanta Braves. He will be inducted into the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame today.
Little but tough
Growing up, Hudson was always one of the smaller kids, but what he didn't have in height he made up for in spirit, according to former teammate and childhood friend Adam Thomas.
“He was always a good athlete,” said Thomas, who has been the head baseball coach at CVCC for 11 years now. “Growing up, we played baseball and football together since we were about 6 or 7 years old. I knew him more as a football player during those days.
“He was smaller than most back then too, but the kid was fast as lightning and he’d hit you right in the jaw and hard.”
John Niblett, the athletic director, football coach and headmaster at Glenwood at the time, knew him mostly as a football player as well.
“I recruited him out of Smiths Station for football,” said Niblett, who is now the headmaster and athletic director at Hooper Academy in Hope Hull, Ala. “I didn’t know he was as good in baseball.”
Hudson led the Gators at shortstop and on the mound after transferring from Smiths Station High School following his freshman year.
His offensive production is what Niblett remembered most about him on the diamond.
“I always thought he was a better hitter than pitcher,” Niblett said. “Of course now, he’s not doing it every day, so that has fallen off.”
Hudson finished his high school career with a 12-1 record and a 1.78 ERA and two Alabama Independent School Association baseball state championships.
But it wasn’t enough to turn heads at the bigger schools, so longtime CVCC coach B.R. Johnson gave Hudson a shot.
“I was a good high school player,” Hudson said. “But I was a really small kid. I wasn’t a big prospect. I was kind of a late bloomer.”
Johnson’s offer was the only one Hudson received. But the two-position player took advantage of the opportunity.
Physically, Hudson got stronger. He estimates he put on at least 10 pounds. It may not sound like a lot, but, on his small frame, it made a huge difference.
“What stood out most about Tim was how hard he worked at his game,” Johnson said. “We had been following him since he was a Little Leaguer and were lucky to get him.
“Tim was always a consistently good, great player. Big schools didn’t give him a look out of high school, but hey, they should have.”
Like Niblett, Johnson said Hudson’s hitting was the highlight of his game that he remembered. Hudson hit third in the lineup, and Thomas, his catcher at CVCC, said he always could tell when Hudson was at the plate.
“If you listened to him hitting,” Thomas said, “you could tell it was him. You wouldn’t even need to see it. The ball had a distinct sound coming off his bat. It was the same way with him pitching. It just sounded different when the ball hit my mitt.”
After Hudson’s freshman year, the top-notch programs started taking notice. He got offers from several schools but called Auburn his best opportunity.
“My best offer was actually from South Alabama,” he said. “It was fun going on the recruiting trips and getting phone calls from the coaches, but Auburn had all the intangibles.”
Auburn also had some familiarity.
Former Central standout Bryan Hebson had gone to Auburn out of high school and said he knew things were going to go in the right direction for the Tigers when he heard Hudson was coming.
“I had a feeling in my gut that we might have a chance to win a lot of games at Auburn before we left,” Hebson said. “I couldn’t have been happier to have a guy from my hometown as a part of the Auburn family.”
Hudson’s junior year didn’t go as planned for the team, which finished a disappointing 32-24. But the right-hander made his presence known on the mound with a 5-3 record and a 3.25 ERA. Hudson hit three home runs in the opening series in 1996 but batted only 22 more times throughout the season.
Hudson met with Baird during the offseason before his senior year. It was during that meeting he convinced Baird to let him hit regularly and play center field when he wasn’t pitching.
“That first year at Auburn made a lot of difference,” Hudson said. “After that, I felt like I was able to prepare for the next year the way I wanted. And we had a great one.”
The Tigers made it to the College World Series but fell to Stanford.
“That performance was unlike anything I had ever seen,” said Baird, who coached college baseball for 20 years. “It was just phenomenal. What he did as a center fielder was great enough. Then to think about what he did on the mound. It was just tremendous.
“He had a tremendous work ethic and was as fierce a competitor and as confident as anyone I coached, far and away the best. He had all the intangibles.”
Off the field, Hebson lived with Hudson their senior year and said the excitement wasn’t limited to the baseball field.
“I think he averaged at least one heart-stopping scare of either me or my roommate every week,” Hebson said. “He loved to hide in the closet, bathtub, behind the door or in the laundry room. And masks were definitely a strong possibility. I think he’s still going strong with this bad habit in the big leagues today.
“And he’s the only college athlete I’ve met who put up All-American statistics on a daily diet of just egg sandwiches and Papa John’s pizza.”
The Major League Baseball draft was going on while the Tigers were in Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series. But Hudson, despite his statistics, was projected as an eighth- to 12th rounder.
“I had a really good senior year,” he said, “but I was still small, and I was a right-hander and a senior. Not a lot of clubs are looking for a smaller, older pitcher.”
But Hudson went higher than expected when the Oakland Athletics drafted him in the sixth round. The A’s were a team Hudson was excited to be a part of, particularly because of the short depth chart the major league club had at starting pitching.
“They were really up front with my group of guys. They told us whoever did the best, doors were going to open up for them,” Hudson said.
And doors opened quickly.
Hudson signed with Oakland on June 13, 1997, and made his major-league debut almost two years later on June 8, 1999.
“I was in Las Vegas for a game with Triple-A Vancouver and was warming up because it was my turn in the rotation,” Hudson said. “We knew something was going to happen because there was some movement at the top, but I was on a team with two to three other big-league prospects. But my manager called me in and told me not to pitch because I was going to be pitching in San Diego with the big league on Tuesday.”
The little guy got his chance, and instead of looking forward, he kept the mentality of always looking back.
“I thought I’m going to make it a point to go out and pitch every game so they don’t have any excuse to send me back down,” he said. “I know it’s not easy to stay here, so I pitched to not get sent down.”
He didn’t. In fact, he struck out 11, which was a career-best for a long time.
Hudson finished his rookie season 11-2 and was fifth in Rookie of the Year voting to Carlos Beltran. He had his best season in 2000, when he won 20 games. He was voted to the American League All-Star team in 2000 and 2004. He credits his success to his peers in Oakland.
“My career wouldn’t have been that good without those guys,” Hudson said. “Without Barry Zito and Mark Mulder showing me how to be the best. Without pitching coach Rick Peterson. I owe a lot to those guys. We won a lot of games because they knew how to prepare.”
Before the 2005 season, Oakland traded Hudson to the Atlanta Braves for three players. He’s been with the Braves since.
In fall 2008, Hudson underwent ligament transplant surgery on his throwing elbow. He returned Sept. 19 of last year and finished the season 2-1. He signed a three-year extension with the Braves after the season ended.
Although Hudson will turn 35 this year, he said if he remains healthy this contract may not be his last.
“My arm feels as good as it did when I was 25,” he said. “I feel like as long as I keep my preparation level still high and can pitch deep into games, I’ll still be ready to go.”
Without attaching numbers to his goals, his expectations for the upcoming season are definitely high.
“I’m going to gauge this year as every other year,” Hudson said. “If I’m healthy, I should pitch deep. I’d like 30-32 starts, but I want quality starts.”
Through 11 seasons, Hudson is 148-78 with a career 3.49 ERA and 1,402 strikeouts.
Hudson, his wife, Kim, his two daughters, Kennedie, 8, and Tess, 5, and son Kade, 4, live in Peachtree City, Ga., but will move to Auburn, Ala., next year.
Hudson called today’s induction into the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame humbling.
“It’s exciting that people from my hometown think I deserve it,” he said. “It’s special at any point in your career that people think it’s worthy of this, especially in the middle of it.”
Hudson and his wife recently founded the Hudson Family Foundation that helps children in need. They’ve been involved in charity work for several years and thought it was time to take another step forward with their own foundation.
“We want to leave an impression with these kids that are faced with so much,” Hudson said. “And it’s a great tool to teach our kids that it’s exciting to give and help others.”