Hudson holds out hope
For Kyle Hudson, last Wednesday was about as good as it gets.
The former University of Illinois baseball All-American spent the morning and afternoon practicing and playing the game he loves. A game for which he gets paid.
Then it was back to his hotel in Chandler, Ariz., arriving in time to watch the men’s basketball team of his beloved college alma mater pull one out of the fire by rallying from 17 points down to win.
Finally, the Mattoon native headed down to the pool to relax and return a call from a reporter checking in with perhaps the fastest player ever to pull on an Illini baseball jersey.
No need to ask the 5-foot-11 outfielder whether he’s grateful to be in Arizona for spring training rather than back home in central Illinois, which slowly thaws out from one of the most brutal winters in recent memory.
“Before I left, it was not fun to be there,” said Hudson, who couldn’t resist adding, “Right now, I’m sitting out by the pool, and it’s about 75 degrees and perfect.”
About the only way things could get any better for the Los Angeles Angels minor leaguer these days is if wife Shaela was with him. As a matter of fact, the fourth-grade teacher arrived in the Grand Canyon State on Saturday to spend the week with Hudson during her school’s spring break.
Of course, Hudson’s circumstances could be even more fortunate. He could be in the mix for a roster spot with a major league team — something the 2008 third-team All-American experienced in 2011 as a September call-up by the Baltimore Orioles.
Instead, Hudson is signed to a Class AAA contract with the Angels, who are well stocked in the outfield with the likes of Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton and promising right fielder Kole Calhoun.
Not that Hudson is complaining, especially considering the alternative. After spending last season with the Orioles’ Class AA team, the free agent probably could have signed with Baltimore again — that is, if he would have agreed to return to Double-A.
“At this point in my career, I need to be in Triple-A,” said the 27-year-old Hudson, who will begin this season with the Class AAA Salt Lake Bees in Utah. “I love that organization. They gave me a great opportunity. Called me up to the major leagues, and I appreciate them for that.
“But they couldn’t guarantee a Triple-A spot, and I felt like that wasn’t as good an opportunity as I’m in now.”
Hudson has been a free agent during each of the last three off-seasons, and there was one year when the calendar had turned to February, and he had yet to hook on with an organization.
“That was a little scary,” he recalled.
This offseason was the flip side of that scenario. Late last November, with the Thanksgiving turkey still a fresh culinary memory, the Angels contacted Hudson’s agent to indicate they not only were interested but also had him in their Class AAA plans.
“We jumped on that pretty fast,” Hudson said.
Although the 2008 Illini MVP works out at the Angels’ minor league training base, Hudson has appeared in a handful of spring training games with the major league Angels. It’s always as a late-inning defensive replacement and might not even include an opportunity to hit.
Now that spring games for the minor leaguers have started, a guy who ranks No. 2 on the UI career batting average chart will attempt to make the best impression possible with his new employers.
“All these coaches that haven’t seen me play, maybe I can open some more eyes, and maybe it will open up an opportunity in the future,” Hudson said.
The future is something Hudson has begun to give more thought to these days. A former fourth-round draft pick of the Orioles, Hudson now is with his fifth different organization — although he has actually played for only four — as he approaches the start of his seventh season in pro baseball.
This might be a year, especially if Hudson doesn’t get to the major leagues, to re-examine how quickly the clock is ticking on his ultimate goal in the sport.
“I know 27 years old doesn’t sound very old to a lot of people, but in baseball years, you’re getting up there,” Hudson said. “Obviously, I have some years left, I feel like, but there’s a small window where you’re kind of in your prime where you need to be at the highest if you’re going to quote unquote make it.
“The window’s kind of closing (for me), so obviously (returning to the major leagues is) the goal, and hopefully that will be something that might happen this year.”
If it doesn’t?
“If I don’t feel this is going to be my career for the long run and I’m not going to be financially set up with this, I need to start figuring out what I want to do after this,” Hudson said. “That’s something guys don’t want to think about, but it comes into play once you get a little bit older.”
Then again, maybe this is the year. Injuries do happen at the major league level. Minor leaguers do play so well that they can’t be ignored and do get called up.
It happened for Hudson once before, during that memorable September of 2011, when his longtime dream of being a major leaguer became a reality, if only for that month.
Who’s to say it couldn’t happen again. Not Hudson.
“That’s always the goal,” he said. “You go into a season just trying to play as best you can. And if that time comes and they need somebody, hopefully you’re playing well enough and they’re confident in you that they’ll call you up.”
A list of former area college baseball players who are in MLB organizations:
University of Illinois
Tanner Roark Nationals
Willie Argo Rays
Lars Davis Rockies
Kyle Hudson Angels
Thomas Lindauer Astros
Matt Milroy Marlins
Jordan Parr* Diamondbacks
Josh Parr Diamondbacks
Justin Parr* Phillies
Brandon Wikoff Astros
Kevin Kiermaier (above) Rays
Spencer Patton Royals
Nate Roberts Twins
Danny Winkler Rockies
Nick Wittgren Marlins
* — Also played for Parkland