March 16, 2011
PEORIA, Ariz. — Hang around enough batting cages at spring training and it's easy to become convinced they are all one and the same. Small groupings of hitters go through their daily routines, swatting fat pitches high into the air while forming other offerings into well-placed line drives. In between their hacks, they lean up against the structure of the cage, fussing with their bat handles, speaking to teammates in voices too low to be heard and pretending that dozens of camera-toting spectators aren't there. The only thing separating the driving-range type scene from the one the day before are the colors of the uniforms and the ballplayers doing the swinging.
It's not exactly the type of stuff that high-profile entertainment is made of.
"You wonder why they boo!" Hudson said again.
The crowd laughed, just as it had the first time. Hudson and Headley shook their heads, both for different reasons. The motor mouth was running and in fine form.
As anyone around baseball can tell you, to see Orlando Hudson is to hear him. But to hear him is not necessarily to see him. His lips never start moving and his deep, drenched-in-South Carolina voice is a constant presence around any cage or corner, on any diamond or in any clubhouse or dugout. He leads the league in WPM (words per minute) and would probably fit in more if he were playing point guard on a nearby basketball court.
This year, the Padres are the team, uh, lucky enough to be graced with his presence. Hudson signed a two-year, $11.5 million deal with the team in the offseason after spending 2010 with the division-winning Minnesota Twins and 2009 with the division-winning Los Angeles Dodgers. The 33-year-old megaphone will play second base and team up with shortstop Jason Bartlett(notes) to give the Friars a new double play combination.
He'll also provide constant narration duties. During Tuesday's BP session, he handed out penalties for foul balls ("two minutes for hooking!"), complimented sweet strokes ("that's how you do it right there") and even acknowledged the fans behind the chain-link fence ("y'all enjoy the game later today").
Then, after needling Headley, the switch-hitter made his way into the right-handed batter's box and put a pitch high over the left field wall. "Bam!" Hudson yelled before flipping his bat toward the pitcher's mound in the exaggerated motion of an egotistical home run slugger. "Like Rickey Henderson," he said.
Hudson continued to woof in only the way that he can, but it was eventually and somewhat surprisingly interrupted by one of the two left fielders that hadn't even moved when Hudson's ball sailed over their heads.
"Hey," the unidentified Friar shouted. "Shut up already!"