Major League Baseball’s Orlando Hudson provided two powerful messages to prepubescent African American baseball players: That playing baseball for a living is the absolute ultimate. And two, that when you pursue your dreams, you provide a powerful portal for others to live out theirs as well.
Even after about a decade in the game, Hudson, a highly decorated second baseman for the San Diego Padres, still says “It’s something to live out my childhood dream.” This is the main thing Hudson tried to impart to the eager black baseball players at The Villages at Carver Family YMCA in south Atlanta.
“First of all, we have to get African American kids and brothers back into baseball. … We can play this game. The numbers have decreased drastically throughout the years,” says Hudson, a two-time All Star and four-time Gold Glove winner. “It’s good to come back [to Atlanta] and play the Braves and come to talk to the kids with its large African American population. I’m just trying to give some knowledge to help the kids out. It’s such a great game to play.”
Hudson, whose wife is a College Park, Ga., native, gave preteen players with promise some pointers on pursuing baseball.
1. Education: “The first thing, before you do anything. You can’t even play unless you have good grades.”
3. Respect for the Game: “Respect the teammates, respect your parents, respect the church, play the game hard, work on the fundamentals, and everything else will take care of itself
In what would be shocking to contemporary sports fans, African Americans comprised roughly 33 percent of all baseball players, with many of them — Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Willie Stargel, Willie McCovey, Frank Robinson, Rod Carew and Bobby Bonds for starters — immortalized within the pantheons of baseball and are practically synonymous with the game itself. Mystifying to many, particularly to Hudson, is that that percentage of black players has eroded to a miniscule level today.
Hudson traces the problem to a lack of a comprehensive plan and desire to venture into rough urban areas — despite the fact that football and basketball scouts frequent these most challenged neighborhoods — and cultivate the raw talent. Also, there is a high cost associated with playing America’s favorite pastime.
“Parents, especially with the recession and the hard times, are not really able to afford two children playing baseball. A single working mother can’t afford to pay for two different traveling teams. She can’t pull out that kind of money, especially when it costs $10,000-$15,000 apiece. It’s too much.”
Hudson, the founder of the C.A.T.C.H Foundation, which helps autistic children lead more normal lives, traces his success and longevity in pro baseball to three main sources:
1. His faith: “I have to give it up to God.”
2. His parents: “My parents have been behind me from day one, and married for 34 years.”
3. Hard work to stay in the game: “That’s the hardest thing. There are a succession of kids that are coming up who want your position. They are getting younger and younger every year. You can’t get the money and get complacent. You have to stay up on your game: weight room, ground balls, batting practice, etc.”