Hudson views Opening Day start as 'privilege'
Veteran takes the mound for third season opener, first at Turner Field
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When the Braves acquired Tim Hudson from the A's after the 2004 season and then immediately provided him with a four-year contract extension, they envisioned him anchoring their rotation as they moved away from the days of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.
Eight seasons later, the Braves have had no reason to regret the long relationship they have shared with Hudson, who has enriched the club on the mound, in the clubhouse and in the community through his many charitable endeavors.
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"He's great for the clubhouse and a great teammate," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He's great for the city. He and his wife have done a lot for the Atlanta area. At the end of his career, he could be talked about like Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz in terms of what they've done for the community and on the field."
Given all of the contributions Hudson has made, it was no surprise when the Braves announced they had given him the honor of starting Monday night's season opener against the Phillies at Turner Field. This will be his third Opening Day start for the club and first since 2008.
"I feel like we have a number of guys that were deserving of it and very well capable of starting Opening Day," Hudson said. "It's a privilege for me to be able to be named the guy."
After making his two previous Opening Day starts for the Braves on the road, Hudson will have the chance to enjoy this occasion in front of the friends and family members who still live approximately two hours south of Atlanta in his native Phenix City, Ala.
As Hudson began developing his passion for baseball, he adopted Atlanta as his favorite team and vividly remembers watching the likes of Dale Murphy and Glenn Hubbard on a daily basis. As he neared the end of high school, he celebrated the accomplishments of Smoltz and Glavine.
Hudson never imagined he would one day have the opportunity to be part of some of the same Braves rotations that still included Smoltz and Glavine.
"I'd have had a better chance of winning the lottery," Hudson said. "Out of high school, if you would have told me, 'In 20 years, this is where your life is going to be,' I'd be like, 'You are crazy. There is no chance.'"
|Projected Opening Day lineup|
Burdened by a lack of size, Hudson had to play at his hometown community college before being given a chance to become one of college baseball's top players during his days at Auburn University. He was drafted by the A's in the sixth round of the 1997 First-Year Player Draft and made his Major League debut two years later.
When Atlanta acquired Hudson from Oakland, the Braves envisioned him serving as an anchor in their rotation for many years. There was some disappointment when he posted a career-high 4.86 ERA in 2006, but the past six seasons have been much closer to what both parties had envisioned.
Hudson has gone 78-44 with a 3.24 ERA over his past six seasons. Only Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia, Adam Wainwright, Cliff Lee and Matt Cain have posted a better ERA while making at least 150 starts in that span.
"He competes," Gonzalez said. "There might not be another competitor that competes the way that he does. But he has fun doing it. He laughs at himself when he screws up. He has fun pitching."
Hudson has made the fifth-most starts (222) in Atlanta history. The only pitchers who have compiled more since the club moved from Milwaukee in 1966 are Phil Niekro, Glavine, Smoltz and Maddux.
Hudson's desire to compete has been evident as he has gone 51-27 with a 3.22 ERA since returning from Tommy John surgery for the final month of the 2009 season. The 37-year-old right-hander has won at least 16 games in each of the past three seasons, including last year, despite missing most of the first month while recovering from back surgery.
"He's a typical gamer," catcher Gerald Laird said. "He's a hard-nosed No. 1 pitcher who has been around a while. He doesn't have the velocity he once has. But he has the stuff and he is not scared of anything."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.