SAN FRANCISCO — There's a long table running through the middle of the clubhouse. On it sits 54 boxes of baseballs. Each box has 12 balls. Giants players move from chair to chair, signing all the baseballs in front of them.
This is no quick task. There are 648 baseballs, so it's kind of like scrawling your name on a decade's worth of Christmas cards. It's probably not what any player wants to do between Games 2 and 3 of the World Series.
Tim Hudson, however, is playing in the first World Series of his 16-year MLB career. He'd already spent about a half hour signing baseballs Thursday, with many more still to do.
"Better than sitting at home," he said.
Hudson knows all about being at home during the World Series. Even though he's played on many good teams in his career, when the Giants reached the National League Championship Series, that was the furthest Hudson had advanced in the postseason.
Now, he's here, the ultimate destination, the World Series. And if he has to sign 600 baseballs and answer question after question because he's finally here, that's an acceptable byproduct.
"This is something I've never had to deal with at this point in my career," Hudson said. "It's something that I've always looked forward to. I've always hoped and dreamed that this opportunity would happen for me, and here I am on the eve of obviously the biggest game I've ever pitched. It's almost a sense of relief that it's finally here, that what I've hoped and dreamed for throughout my career is finally here, and there's not going to be anybody on the field that's more ready than I am."
Hudson starts Game 3 for the Giants against Kansas City Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie. At 39, Hudson is the third-oldest pitcher to make his World Series debut. The others: 46-year-old Jack Quinn in 1929 and 45-year-old Jamie Moyer in 2008.
Even though this is Hudson's first season with the Giants, there was the strong urge among his teammates to get him deep in the postseason. When the Giants clinched their NLCS berth, ace Madison Bumgarner singled out Hudson as someone he was happiest for. When the Giants clinched their World Series spot, the usually mild-mannered Hudson answered his teammates' call and stood in the middle of a champagne celebration circle, yelling "I waited 16 years for this!"
"I'm really excited for him that he gets to pitch at this stage," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. "He's had an incredible career, and for him to finally get to the World Series, I couldn't be happier for him. These guys feel the same. When he hits the mound, I'll feel like that, too. It's going to be a special moment."
You can distill Hudson's career to this: The teams he pitched for won a lot of games in the regular season, but never did too well in the playoffs. That's true for the "Moneyball" A's and it's true for his Braves years.
"You often wonder, is it ever going to happen?" said Hudson, who made the postseason in five of his first seven MLB seasons and lost in the first round each time.
"Early on it wasn't quite as frustrating because I thought that I'd be there every year. I thought I'd have an opportunity every year to get to the playoffs and have a chance to win. But as you start playing with some teams and you have that playoff drought of a few years in a row, you start realizing how hard it is to get here every year, and how hard it is to compete against a lot of teams in baseball."
The Giants, somewhat surprisingly, are the team to finally get him here. He signed a two-year, $23 million free agent contract to return to the Bay Area. When the Giants added Hudson, it seemed like the type of move that could turn a good team into a postseason contender.
You know the rest: Their season started strong, they collapsed and lost a huge lead in the NL West, then they entered the playoffs as the lowest NL seed. It seemed like a recipe for Hudson to be disappointed once again. But these Giants have uncorked another bottle of October magic. Now Tim Hudson can give them a 2-1 lead in the World Series during his Game 3 start. In two starts this postseason, he has a 3.29 ERA in 13.2 innings. The Giants won both games, a result they'd certainly be happy with this time.
"It's the pinnacle of baseball. This is what everybody hopes and dreams for throughout their career. It's obviously a bigger, brighter stage, but at the end of the day it's the same game we've played all year. It's the same game we've played our whole lives. It's just going out there and controlling those emotions and understanding that it's still a simple game. You've got to go out there and make pitches, have a solid game plan and be mentally and physically prepared. I feel really prepared and ready to go both mentally and emotionally and physically."
About those baseballs Hudson was signing: Each player gets a box of them as a keepsake for being on a World Series team. Years from now, Hudson will be able to pull out those balls and point to the signatures of Bumgarner and Jake Peavy and Buster Posey and remember what it was like to finally pitch in the World Series.
Not that he'd ever forget.
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