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Hudson: Two for the Price of One

By Guy Rhodes

Editor's Note: This article is reprinted from the February 1997 issue of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine.

[Tim Hudson is one of the leading pitchers and hitters in the SEC this season.
Hal Baird looks at Tim Hudson with amazement.

"Tim has a unique set of athletic skills," says Baird.

The veteran Auburn coach has been around baseball most of his life as a college pitcher/outfielder at East Carolina, a professional pitcher with the Kansas City Royals organization and a college coach for 17 years at East Carolina and Auburn.

"Tim is only six feet tall and weighs 160 pounds," Baird says. "I've never seen someone that size who can run and throw like him," Baird admits. "He has tremendous arm speed when you consider his size. He can also hit the ball out of the park and is an outstanding defensive player. He's a great athlete who can beat you in a number of ways. On top of that, Tim is an excellent student and a super individual."

With that assessment, no wonder Baird is prepared to give the player who is expected to be the ace of the pitching staff an opportunity to play in every game as a pitcher or center fielder. One has to go back to Tommy Youngblood, who was an All-SEC pitcher and .300-plus designated hitter in the late 1980s, to find a Tiger who did both successfully. Prior to Youngblood, the last player to handle a starting pitcher/outfielder dual role was George Simmons on Auburn's College World Series team in 1967.

Baird doesn't plan on using Hudson as an experiment. "Whether Tim is in the batting order on days he is pitching will be determined by how he is going with the bat at the time," Baird explains. "If he's hitting well, he'll do both."

Hudson, who played in Phenix City's excellent youth baseball program and high school football and baseball at Glenwood School, has done both at the high school and college level. "I didn't start pitching until I was a junior in high school," Hudson says. "Until then, I played shortstop and the outfield."

Although he was only about 5-11 and weighed 145 pounds, Hudson was known for his power in summer leagues and high school. At Glenwood, Hudson played on state championship football teams as a cornerback his sophomore and senior years. The Gators won state championships in baseball Hudson's junior and senior seasons.

"I didn't play much football growing up," Hudson says. "Mostly, I was involved in baseball, but I really enjoyed getting to play football at Glenwood."

He played football under John Niblett, whose son Josh was an outstanding baseball pitcher and quarterback for the Gators. Josh signed a football scholarship with Southern Miss before finishing his college football career at Alabama. His senior season at Glenwood, Hudson compiled a 9-0 mound mark with an 0.46 earned run average and 107 strikeouts while hitting .475 with eight homers and 16 stolen bases. Hudson was a member of a Phenix City Dixie Majors (15-18) baseball team that won the state championship and finished fifth in the Dixie Majors World Series in Lufkin, Texas.

It was during summer league play that Hudson picked up some pitching tips from Tim McLain, a former Auburn University pitcher, who played several seasons professionally in the minor leagues. Though he learned from McLain, Hudson didn't realize until recently that McLain had pitched for Auburn University.

"I wasn't much of a prospect in baseball," Hudson says. "I guess it was because of my small size and the fact that I played for a private school."

That doesn't mean Hudson didn't garner some attention, which is normally the case for all-star baseball players in Phenix City's older leagues. Hudson was a classmate at Glenwood with the daughter of Chattahoochee Valley Community College head baseball coach B.R. Johnson, who keeps close ties with youth baseball in the Phenix City area.

"During my junior season, I began to think about playing at CVCC," Hudson says. "I had a chance to play at Central Alabama (Alexander City) or Southern Union (Wadley). Both have good junior college programs. So does CVCC, and I wanted to stay close to home and play for Coach Johnson."

At CVCC, Hudson proved his versatility while adding about 15 pounds and an inch during two All-American junior college seasons as a two-way performer. Though small in stature, Hudson was selected in the 35th round of the 1994 baseball draft by the Oakland Athletics, but the excellent student, who was in the math honorary society at Glenwood, opted to pursue his education and play junior college ball.

That move proved to be a solid decision. As a freshman, Hudson had an impressive 10-2 pitching record with a 2.45 earned run average and 107 strikeouts. However, it was as an outfielder that he made first team All-America for Division II of junior college baseball. Hudson batted .385 with nine home runs, mostly as a designated hitter with some duties in the outfield. He was selected to the All-America squad as an outfielder and was also named most valuable Division II JUCO player in Alabama.

Hudson followed that season with a nearly as impressive sophomore campaign, making second-team All-American and again being selected the state's most valuable junior college player. As a sophomore, Hudson led the nation in strikeouts with 117 while fashioning an 8-3 record and two saves to go with a 1.96 ERA. Again, Hudson was selected All-America as an offensive player, belting nine home runs, driving in 41 runs and stealing 15 bases.

"Junior college baseball was a lot of fun and I continued to develop as a pitcher after not having much of a pitching background," Hudson points out. "I threw the ball better my sophomore year and had put on 10 pounds."

Hudson's development as a pitcher had much to do with gaining experience after making the transition to pitching during his junior year of high school. He credits McLain, Russ Martin at Glenwood and Johnson at CVCC for that development.

"I also played summer ball for mostly junior college players in the Northwest Collegiate League in Hornell, N.Y., between my freshman and sophomore years in junior college," Hudson says. That was a wooden bat league and Hudson was very effective, concentrating solely on pitching that summer in compiling a 5-2 record and 1.89 ERA in 42 innings.

During his sophomore season at CVCC, Hudson had developed into a Division I prospect with contacts from Mississippi State, Alabama and Florida State in addition to the Tigers. His family was split between Auburn and Alabama fans with Hudson leaning toward Auburn.

Auburn assistant coach Tommy Slater had seen Hudson at CVCC and asked him to visit Auburn in the fall of his sophomore year at CVCC. Mississippi State wanted Hudson to wait until the spring. Bulldog coach Ron Polk changed his mind when he heard Hudson was visiting Auburn in the fall and attempted to get Hudson to move his visit to the fall. By then, Hudson had decided to become a Tiger. "I signed as soon as Auburn offered me a scholarship," he says.

Baird says as far as he's concerned, Hudson is a true Auburn man. "Although he's only been here two years, Tim has a special feeling for Auburn. He's as much a part of the Auburn program as those who have been here four years."

Baird had to go to Hudson last year on the mound to shore up a staff that was dealt a hard blow with the continuing elbow problems of Ryan Halla, an All-American as a junior with a 16-3 record who struggled to a 5-4 record in 1996 and eventually was sidelined by a recurring elbow problem.

Hudson had hit the three homers in the opening series and it was a thrill to him as an everyday player. "The day I hit the two home runs was my parents' 27th wedding anniversary and they were here to see my first game at Auburn," Hudson recalls of the 10-1 victory over Virginia Commonwealth.

That was the highlight of Hudson's season, offensively. Following the opening series, he batted only 22 times the rest of the season. "I got into a little slump and was trying to concentrate on my pitching," Hudson admits.

Baird agrees. "Tim struggled at the plate for a while and we had the pitching problems," Baird recalls. "By the end of the season, Tim developed into our top pitcher."

Hudson was particularly effective down the stretch in Southeastern Conference outings. He defeated national champion LSU, Arkansas and Ole Miss from the SEC Western Division. His only loss against division foes was a 1-0 setback to Alabama, which was ranked number one in the nation at the time. Hudson's record against the SEC West was 3-1 with a 3.41 ERA. His overall record was 5-3 with a team best 3.25 ERA in 25 appearances, four as a starter near the end of the season.

"I struggled at first on the mound," Hudson says. "In junior college I could get hitters out by blowing it by them, but in the SEC you can't do that-you have to spot the ball. I knew I could win in the SEC and decided to quit worrying about it and go out and have some fun playing baseball."

Hudson is looking forward to playing center field and pitching. "I'm not worried about trying to do both," he says. "I did both in junior college, although they used courtesy runners for pitchers and I didn't have to run the bases that much."

Hudson will probably bat second or seventh and is expected to be the designated hitter when he's pitching.

"Not many people get the opportunity to do both and I'm looking forward to it," Hudson stresses. "When I first came to Auburn it was primarily as a pitcher and that's what my future will probably be in baseball if I continue. So getting to play every day this year may be my last time to do it."

Hudson sees Auburn with much potential after last season's mediocre 32-24 record and failure to make the SEC post-season tournament for the first time since 1985.

"There's no question last year was a disappointing season," Hudson says. "Auburn had been ranked number one the previous year. It looked like we didn't have much luck with injuries and getting the stadium ready, and there didn't seem to be much leadership from the older guys. But I think we are ready to do it together this year. Nobody can do it by themselves."

Hudson says he's altered his style from throwing over the top on every pitch to dropping down some at Baird's suggestion. Baird says Hudson has a moving fast ball that can reach 90 mph with a devastating split-finger pitch that he developed while playing summer ball in junior college. Hudson says he's been clocked at 93 mph and can throw consistently between 88 and 91 mph.

Hudson doesn't know exactly why he has such good arm speed, but knows his hitting power comes from bat speed and the ability to get the barrel of the bat through the hitting zone.

He's not worried about having to make throws from the outfield after pitching the previous day when his arm may be recovering. "Coach Baird doesn't make me throw hard from the outfield in practice or warming up for games," he says. "I protect my arm and won't make hard throws unless it's in a game situation."

Hudson, who hopes to eventually coach at the college level, sets his goals high. "If you don't set high goals, what's the point. You don't have much to shoot for. I set my goals so high they are almost impossible to reach. We want to win the division, the SEC Tournament, host an NCAA Regional and go to the College World Series.

"Personally, I would like to get 15 wins, figuring I'm going to get about 20 starts, and hit .300. That's a realistic goal for me at the plate. Hopefully, I'll hit seven or eight homers and drive in some runs. Getting to play outfield and pitch means I've already reached one of my goals for the season."

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