Hudson looks for fresh start after back surgery

Tim Hudson remembers when he was the young gun in the


Now, he’s the old dude, looking a bit out of place on one of

baseball’s most promising pitching staffs.

But don’t count him out just yet. At 36, Hudson isn’t quite

ready to pass the torch to all those hot young prospects on the

Atlanta Braves. Quite the contrary. After undergoing back surgery

over the winter – yep, the sort of operation usually reserved for

an aging athlete – the right-hander feels better than ever.

”I’m in my prime,” Hudson said, breaking into a mischievous


He won’t be ready to go at the start of the season. After two

vertebrae in his lower back were fused during an operation in late

November, Hudson is about a month behind schedule. For him, opening

day is May 1.

But Hudson has no regrets about undergoing the procedure, having

endured steadily increasing pain over the last three or four

seasons. Finally, after being unable to get started on his latest

offseason program because it was just too excruciating, he realized

something had to be done.

”It’s just one of those things that happens as you get a little

older,” he said. ”You don’t really think much about it until it

gets to the point where you can’t deal with it. Then, when you get

it fixed, you realize how bad it was.”

Looking around, Hudson is reminded of that up-and-coming Oakland

staff at the start of the 2000s, the one that included himself and

left-handers Barry Zito and Mike Mulder. The Braves have Jair

Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson and Brandon Beachy in their rotation, while

Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado are poised to break

through. The oldest one in the bunch is Jurrjens, who just turned


”In Oakland when I came up, we had three top-of-the-line

starters that were young,” Hudson said. ”There’s a whole rotation

full here that could be pretty special at some point.”

The Braves are counting on Hudson to serve as a mentor to all

those youngsters.

”Leadership is big,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. ”If you

were a young pitcher in this camp, Huddy is the guy you would

follow. Not only his work habits, but the way he carries himself on

and off the field.”

Hudson looks forward to working with all the kids, passing on

the lessons learned over his 13 years in the majors. He understands

what it takes to be successful, winning at least 11 games every

season except 2009, when he was coming back from major elbow


He’s not an imposing pitcher by any means, packing all of 175

pounds on his wiry frame, and he certainly doesn’t have a

dominating repertoire. But Hudson knows how to keep the ball down,

usually ranking among the league’s best in producing ground balls.

Plus, he’s one of the most popular guys on the team, keeping

everyone in stitches with Southern-accented humor that would work

just as well in a frat house as it does a clubhouse.

There’s certainly a youthful energy that allows Hudson to get

along just fine with all the kids.

”I just want to watch `em grow, man. They’re really … good

right now, but they’re only going to get better. It’s going to be

fun to watch,” Hudson said. ”Even though I’m considerably older

than a lot of these guys, I don’t feel like I am. I don’t know if

that’s just because I’m kind of dumb or they just make me feel like

I’m young.”

Hudson knows there are plenty of Braves fans who wonder why he

didn’t have the surgery right after the season ended in September.

But he’d always been able to mask the pain by taking

anti-inflammatory medication. It was only when he stopped taking

the pills and started back up with his workout program that he

realized he wouldn’t be able to deal with it this time. The

vertebrae were rubbing against each other, essentially bone on


”If you can’t work out to be ready for spring training, then

you’re not gonna be worth a crap,” Hudson said. ”Obviously, a lot

of people ask, `Why didn’t you do it a month earlier and you’d be

right on time?’ Well, it took me that long to realize that I

wouldn’t be able to stick it out like I normally had.”

He only hopes this operation works out as well as the last


Hudson sustained the first serious injury of his career in 2008,

a torn ligament in his elbow. He underwent Tommy John surgery and

missed most of the next year, though seven starts late in the

season persuaded the Braves to sign him to a new contract.

That was money well spent. Hudson has led the Braves in wins

each of the last two years, combining to go 33-19 with a 3.02


”I responded so well after my Tommy John, it was like a breath

of fresh air,” Hudson said. ”Hopefully this gives me another

boost, another shot of confidence. Honestly, the way I felt, I

could see the end of my career coming. It was like, `That’s just

how I’m gonna go out, I guess – the guy with the bad back.’ But

now, man, honestly, I’m pretty confident that whenever I retire,

it’s not gonna be because of my back.”

Still, it’s a little odd to be one of the oldest players in the


”Yeah, I used to be the young gun,” he reminisced, ”sitting

at my locker, looking at some ol’ 34-year-old going, `Damn, look at

that old” guy.

With that, Hudson jumps up from his locker and begins spouting

jokes. Everyone laughs.

Yep, he still fits right in.

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