Through prayer, positive thinking and
I was able to step back
onto the pitcher's mound.
By Former Braves Pitcher,
The lights were on at
Miami’s Land Shark Stadium that night in August 2009. Fans
decked out in Florida Marlins hats and jerseys-and
umbrellas-filled the seats and clogged the aisles. Organ
music, the kind you hear only at baseball games and
It was 7 p.m., time for the scheduled game between the
Marlins and my Atlanta Braves team to begin. Time for me to
head to the bullpen and warm up-if only the rain would stop.
I was the Braves’ starting pitcher tonight.
I have to admit, I was a little nervous. Well, more
than a little. The rain delay didn’t make things any easier.
I’d pitched ten years in the big leagues, most of them with
the Oakland A’s. I had led the American League in wins in
2000 and twice been an All-Star. But tonight I felt like I
was starting over. I hadn’t played baseball in more than a
Thirteen months earlier, in July 2008, I’d thrown a
pitch off this same mound and felt something grab in my
elbow. I tried to pitch through the pain. But by the sixth
inning, there was no getting around it. My fastball, which I
normally throw at 91 or 92 miles per hour, had dropped to
“I think I tore a muscle,” I told a coach when I went
back to the dugout. I wasn’t all that worried. A torn muscle
is bad but not catastrophic. I figured I’d miss anywhere
from two to six weeks, tops. But the injury turned out to be
way worse. I needed elbow ligament replacement surgery. At
best, the procedure would cost me a year. And if it didn’t
take, that would mean something I could hardly bring myself
to think about: the end of my career. I loved the game,
loved it with all my heart.
Almost every night of these last 13 months, it seemed,
I’d said, “I’m not ready to retire. I’m not done yet.” I
guess you could call it part promise to myself, part prayer
to God. Tonight, my first game back after surgery and a year
of rehab, would tell me whether my prayer had been answered.
If the rain ever let up, that is. “Could be three or four
hours before we start, if we play at all,” said a coach.
In the locker room, some of my teammates watched TV.
Others played video games or talked on their cell phones. A
few dozed. I wished I could relax. I called my wife, Kim,
who was waiting out the rain delay in the Braves’ family
room. I didn’t have to tell her how anxious I was. She knew.
“Remember how you’ve gotten here, how far you’ve come,” Kim
said. “All you can do now is trust in God.” It wasn’t the
first time Kim had reminded me of that. “See you after the
game,” she said. We hung up. I flexed my elbow. It wasn’t
100 percent, but it felt okay. I sat back in my clubhouse
chair and let my mind drift. How far I’d come…
Making it in this game hadn’t been easy for me. At
every level I’d had to scrap to prove myself among the big
guys. And that’s what baseball players, especially the ones
who have any hope of a
major-league career, tend to be-big, strapping guys. God’s
given me many blessings, but it was obvious way back in high
school in Phenix City, Alabama, that intimidating size
wasn’t one of them. Spring of sophomore year, I was
5-foot-10, maybe 125 pounds.
One day, a coach from a junior college in Georgia came
to recruit one of our seniors. “You ought to look at Hudson
too,” my coach said. I pitched my heart out and got the win.
Afterward, my coach went up to the JC coach and asked, “What
did you think of Hudson?” The JC coach said, “He looks like
he’s got pretty good stuff, but he’s too small to play at
the college level.”
It was the same thing I’d hear time and again from other
coaches and scouts. Not one major college recruited me, even
though I went 12-1 over my high school career and pitched
our school to the state championship. I ended up playing for
Chattahoochee Valley, our local community college.
Maybe I was bullheaded, but I truly believed that if just one coach, one
scout, gave me a chance, I’d show them what I was made of. So I kept plugging
away. I’d never be big, but I could be the smartest, toughest competitor out
there. I showed up early to practice, stayed late. Worked out like crazy.
Studied pitching, developed a variety of pitches for my arsenal. Led
Chattahoochee Valley to the state championship. That’s when I got the call I’d
“Tim, we want you to pitch for Auburn,” Tigers coach
Hal Baird said, and offered me a scholarship. He never
mentioned my size or lack thereof. Things went even better than
I could have dreamed after that. I met Kim at Auburn. Went 15-2
my senior season and was named college baseball’s 1997 Player of
the Year. The A’s drafted me. By 1999 I was in the big leagues.
The next year I made the All-Star team. I was on my way. Still,
I never had the sense that I could relax.
For the next nine years I competed against power
pitchers and Bunyanesque sluggers a head taller and 60 pounds
heavier than me. I pumped myself up for every inning I pitched,
every pitch I threw, but even I didn’t realize how much until
one night when I saw a replay on TV. I had just struck out
Boston’s All-Star shortstop, Nomar Garciaparra, to end an
inning. I stared at him as I walked off the mound, as if to say,
“You can’t beat me.”
Garciaparra got ticked off and shouted something at me. My
stare turned into a glare-cold, hard, almost menacing. Watching
the replay, I couldn’t believe that was me. I’m normally a
laid-back guy. I guess it was like I’d tried to explain to
reporters, “I know I weigh a 160 pounds, but when I’m out there
on the mound I feel like I’m 220.”
Being tough and scrappy was what got me here. It was as
much will as skill. Then came the devastating elbow injury in
July 2008. With ligament replacement surgery, there’s no
guarantee you’ll be able to come back. I’d played 10 years in
the big leagues, pitched in the postseason, made more than
enough for my family to live on.
“That’s more than a lot of guys ever get,” Kim reminded
me. I knew that, and I was grateful. But this wasn’t how I
wanted to go out. I threw myself into rehab, worked as hard in
the gym as I would have on the field. I can’t tell you how much
I missed being in the dugout, being in the locker room. It ate
me up, not being able to compete and help my team win.
One night near the end of the 2008 season, we played
the first-place Phillies, in Philadelphia. Well, my teammates
played. I watched from home. We lost the game, the fourth
straight time they’d beat us. I flicked off the TV. If only
I could have pitched tonight, I thought. I carefully flexed
my elbow. It wasn’t coming around like I thought it would. My
surgeon had warned me there’d be days like this, that every
rehab had its peaks and valleys. But this particular valley had
lasted too long. I went to the bedroom. Kim was still up.
“I don’t know what more I can do to strengthen my arm,”
I said, “but it just doesn’t feel like it’s getting better.”
“Maybe this isn’t about what you can do but about what God can
do,” Kim said. “Keep working as hard as you can and leave the
rest in his hands.”
All my years in baseball I’d willed myself to
win-whether it was a spot in the rotation, a matchup with a
great hitter, a game my team needed to make the playoffs. Could
it be that what needed strengthening wasn’t so much my arm as
my faith? Even as I asked myself
that, I felt a lightness that told me Kim was right. Okay,
God, your will, not mine. Now I was back with the Braves,
my elbow surgically repaired, rehabbed, ready to go again. But
did I still have what it took to get batters out? There was only
one way to find out.
The rain finally let up. I strode to the mound a little
after 10 p.m.-a three-hour delay. The first Marlins batter
stepped to the plate. I took a deep breath and threw. The batter
hit a double to deep right centerfield. The next man doubled
too. Men on second and third. Make good pitches, I
urged myself. I struck out the next batter. But the man after
that singled. Two runs scored. I backed off the pitching rubber,
took another deep breath. Do all you can and leave the rest
to God, I heard Kim say again. I threw a sinker to the
following batter, and he grounded into a double play. Inning
over. The jitters went away after that. I threw 4¹/³ more
innings and didn’t allow another run. We won, 4-3, my first
victory in more than a year.
After the congratulations from my teammates and
manager, after the TV and newspaper interviews, I left the
clubhouse. I found Kim and gave her the biggest hug. I threw
well the rest of the 2009 season. Then in 2010 I went 17-9, with
a 2.83 ERA, my
best record in nine years. I was named Comeback Player of the
Year. That was an honor. But to me, my real comeback was that
night early in my rehab when I listened to my wife and finally
trusted everything to a will greater than my own.
(From Guideposts Magazine)