Major League pitchers are supposed to be monsters. Six-feet, six inches tall, 220 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal. A three-day growth outlining a goatee worthy of any Hells Angel. Wrestlers legs and a big butt.
Tim Hudson has the goatee. Kind of.
Other than that, the similarity of Hudson and the proto-typical big league stud ends there. Two of his pitching mates on the Oakland As, southpaws Barry Zito and Mark Mulder, have their pictures in Webster’s next to the word "Typical big league hurler."
On the A’s, however, it is Hudson who is the ace. When opponents line up their rotations before facing Oakland, it is with Hudson in mind. Guys are asked to play hurt when Hudson is scheduled, because they will need everything they have. Managers will bunt in the first inning, play little ball.
"I mean, I can handle it," acknowledges Hudson. "I don’t back down from the challenge, I love it. It’s what makes you what you are."
Case study number one was on Tuesday night, when the New York Yankees came to town. They had Roger Clemens ready for Hudson.
In a game that reminded long-time A’s aficionados of classic 1970s duels between Catfish Hunter and Jim Palmer, neither figured in the decision, an extra-inning 3-2 Oakland win.
"Facing Clemens was definitely exciting," said Hudson. "Going up against Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson - with the stadium packed. It’s just fun to be on the same field with future Hall of Famers. From the short time I’ve been here, a year and a half, I think I’ve earned respect"
Hudson drifts ever so slightly, and you can see him mentally pinch himself. At 5-10, 160 pounds, he has overcome the "size factor."
"I was 5-10, 145 in high school," he says. "That’s one reason I got overlooked. My high school coach, Russ Martin, helped me, as did my summer coach, a guy named Flint Sharpe, who coached a team called the Dixie Boys."
As you might guess, Hudson is from the South. As in Alabama.
"I didn’t pitch until my junior year in high school," he says. "Sharpe taught me the breaker. I just got better and established myself in JC." Hudson then transferred to Auburn.
"That was a great opportunity," he says, "Top to bottom, the Southeastern Conference is the best baseball league in the nation. Every once in a while I’ll get in a discussion with Zito about the merits of the SEC vs. the Pac-10 <Zito is a former USC Trojan). We faced Stanford and lost in the 1997 College World Series.
"I played for Al Baird, who was the pitching coach and head coach, and Steve Renfro, who took over as the head coach. Auburn was my first taste of first class baseball, a terrific program with great facilities like in the big leagues. Coach Renfro and Coach Baird gave me a chance, and I’m still close with them."
He also has learned from the great sociological experiment that is professional ball.
"Coming from Alabama," he remarks, "I’d not met many Latinos, but in the minors half the team was speaking Spanish. Luis Vizcaino spoke no English, but like my buddy Chad Harville and I would talk and it was like, `Luis is a cool guy. I sure wish I could talk to him. Sometimes I’d have a catcher who couldn’t speak English, so we’d communicate through signs."
Hudson is the leader of a young staff.
"I don’t know all there is about pitching, but I think I can help, and we tend to look at each other pitch and give advice," he says. "Zito’s good taking advice."
Hudson, the country boy from Alabama, cannot help ribbing SoCal lefty Zito.
"I know how to get into Zito’s head faster than anybody," he says. "He worries about how others perceive him. I like Barry a lot. He never tries to be something he’s not. But when he had that blue hair, I mean, I had to get in some ribbing."
Hudson is not the first short-statured pitcher to come from south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Remember "Louisiana Lightning", Ron Guidry?
"Sure," says Hudson. "You can’t measure what’s in a guys’ heart, what his desire is, does he know how to pitch.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism