The timing is no coincidence. Nor is the locale. Both speak to the very essence of the man.
Sometime this morning — Jan. 23, 2014 — at Auburn University, new Giants right-hander Tim Hudson will throw off a mound for the first time since suffering a gruesome ankle injury on July 24, 2013.
An ultra-competitive sort whose relatively diminutive stature has fueled an athletic life of proving people wrong, Hudson was told, in the aftermath of the surgery required to stabilize his shredded, broken right wheel, to expect not to climb a mound for at least six months.
He’ll be back on a mound exactly one day shy of six.
The significance of Auburn? Perhaps you’ve heard the “drop” that KNBR (680 AM) has been using for years: War Eagle, Murph! That’s Hudson, professing his undying love for his alma mater by way of greeting 680 morning-drive host Brian Murphy.
Today’s milestone bullpen session represents Hudson to the core: tough, determined, loyal.
His tone during a 20-minute conversation Wednesday that covered everything from his rehab, his readiness for spring training, his excitement about coming back to the Bay Area and his role as an elder statesman for the Giants was Hudson to the core, too: honest, positive, playful, humble.
“I’m the Todd Jones of the staff, man!” he said with a chuckle, referencing another Georgia-born big leaguer. “I’m-a have me a pot belly … and a walrus ‘stache.”
Hudson, whose two-year, $23-million contract from the Giants makes clear that the team knew exactly what kind of pitcher and man they were bringing on board, said Wednesday that he’s close to 100 percent physically and will arrive in Scottsdale, Ariz., next month without any sort of restrictions.
Mentally and verbally, he’s already in mid-season form.
“I don’t even think about it anymore when I’m working out,” he said of the ankle, which got mangled in a baseline stomping of the foot from New York Mets outfielder Eric Young Jr., whose look of horror while trying to comfort Hudson screamed career-ender. That would have been a damn shame; Hudson was working on a four-hit shutout at the time, as well as a 10-start, two-month stretch over which he’d posted a 2.73 ERA.
“I was just hittin’ my stride, man, and I got whacked out!” he said. “Ain’t that somethin’?”
If you’re an A’s fan, you already know what Hudson is all about, and you love him to this day — even though he turned down a similarly generous offer from old friend Billy Beane to sign with San Francisco.
Giants fans will soon see — and hear — why Brian Sabean joined Beane and several other GMs in fairly lavishly vying for the services of a closing-on-40 pitcher who’s undergone Tommy John, back and ankle surgeries over the past five-plus years.
“My hard-runnin’ days been behind me for a while,” Hudson cracked. “I’m more of a stationary bike guy now.”
Nobody with even a passing familiarity with Hudson would take that as concession to age, though. This is a fiercely proud athlete whose work ethic will serve as a model for anyone paying attention in the Giants’ clubhouse.
He’ll no doubt live up to the contract performance-wise. The guy’s never had a losing season, and he’s a rise-to-the-occasion pitcher who helps his own cause with the bat. He broke the RBI record of Frank freaking Thomas as a utilityman at Auburn, and while winning his 200th career game last season, he doubled and belted a homer.
But let’s say he doesn’t light up the NL West. It’s still a hell of a signing, because Tim Lincecum needs a mentor and Hudson is the perfect fit. Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner aren’t natural staff leaders, and Hudson — a self-proclaimed redneck whose Hudson Family Foundation this weekend will host a benefit concert featuring Rascal Flatts — will step right into a beloved-big-brother role with the pair of Southern Gentleman Giants.
“Oh my god, he’s going to be perfect for them,” gushed former Giant and Hudson teammate Barry Zito. “Unreal stoked, for all of them.”
Hudson is unreal stoked, too. His only concern at the moment is getting his arm back in shape. He’s used to a three-month offseason. Six months of inactivity seemed like an eternity.
“I’m like a little kid again,” he said. “I’m playin’ ball again, the family’s looking forward to going back to the Bay Area, and we’re gonna live right there downtown!”
Hudson’s always been in the ‘sticks or the suburbs. A city slicker he’s not. But don’t let the twang fool you. He’s as slick as they come on the mound, and he’ll be a more-than-welcome addition in The City.
Mychael Urban has covered Bay Area sports for more than 22 years as a contributor to Comcast SportsNet, CSNBayArea.com, KNBR, MLB.com, ESPN The Magazine and various newspapers. AuburnMychael UrbanSan Francisco GiantsTim Hudson