Cody Hudson hit his first professional home run and trotted around the bases just like he had done at Austin Peay and, before that, Houston High School. He stepped on home plate and then turned toward his team’s dugout – in this case, the dugout of the San Angelo Colts.
That’s when teammates reminded him of the ritual at Foster Field. They pointed toward the backstop and Hudson removed his helmet. Fans came forward, telling him “good job” and “congratulations” and “nice hit.” They even held up their small children so the little tykes could squeeze a dollar bill, or maybe a 10 or a 20, through the netting.
“That helmet was full of money,” Hudson said.
Not to mention that priceless commodity known as hope.
Cody’s first home run brought in $125. A couple of nights later when his parents Bobby and Sheila Hudson, and his fiancée Cici, were at the ballpark, he hit another. This time the take was $134. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s $259 – or the loose change that falls out of A-Rod’s pockets.
But Hudson, an outfielder, is as grateful as he is surprised to be playing professionally in something called United League Baseball (ULB). His senior year at Austin Peay he batted .363 with 20 doubles, 31 stolen bases, 40 runs batted in and 43 runs scored. He was named a second-team Louisville Slugger All-American as selected by Collegiate Baseball.
“To me, it solidified my chances of getting drafted,” Cody said.
A 5-11, 190-pound switch-hitter, his speed had put him on the big-league scouts’ map. Just before the Major League Draft in early June, the Detroit Tigers and San Francisco Giants told him they were planning to pick him. It wasn’t a lie, it just didn’t turn out to be the truth. Maybe if he was 6 foot and 200 pounds, maybe if he was 20 and not 22, maybe a lot of things.
“They asked if they selected me would I sign,” Cody said, recalling the anticipation that turned to disappointment. “I told them money didn’t matter. I just wanted the opportunity to play and prove myself.”
After Cody went undrafted he tried out for an independent league team in Gary, Ind. The “Railcats” liked him but didn’t sign him. The San Angelo Colts did – “sight unseen, on a recommendation,” Cody said.
Twenty-six games in, he’s batting .309 and tied for the team lead in stolen bases with 12.
His first check from the Colts was for $77; they then put him on the inactive list for a few days and there’s no pay when not on the active roster.
“Regardless of how much it was, I was very excited because it was my first check,” Cody said. “I was very prideful to get paid to play baseball.”
The check bounced. His second check was for about $250. It bounced, too.
This is perhaps a good time to note two of the six teams that started this season in the ULB have folded. Cody and six other players live with a “host” family consisting of a mom, dad, daughter and two grandchildren. Cody and another player bunk in their living room.
None of these potential realities flashed across Cody’s mind, or his father’s, all those years ago when Dad was always pitching to his son in the garage. Today, Bobby Hudson figures those pitches must have exceeded 30,000. Friends used to ask Bobby if he worried Cody would land on the competitive baseball scrap heap, just another burnout. But all the extra hitting, Dad says, was Cody’s idea. He wanted to work that hard.
He does still, playing in San Angelo where game-time temperature might be 105 degrees. For little or no money. For however much glory you can fit in an upturned batting helmet or in a few kind words from strangers.
Ever determined, Cody says he’s following the maxim that “you have to play your way out of independent ball.”
“He’s pursuing his dream,” his father said. “Not many people get to pursue their dream.”
Not many have the guts to try.
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.