KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Tim Hudson remembers when he was the young gun in the clubhouse.
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 grin.
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 past 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.”
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. Jurrjens is the oldest, at 26.
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.”