An alpha ‘Dog in Dodgers’ clubhouse

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The Arizona Diamondbacks’ clubhouse was almost silent, the players murmuring among themselves while eating pregame meals.

Eric Byrnes looked across the room. Without Orlando Hudson, spring training wasn’t quite the same, he said. Certainly not as loud.

Byrnes laughed as he recalled the playful barbs he and the Gold Glove second baseman used to exchange for everyone to hear. He said Hudson used to tease him for being “the California surfer dude.” Byrnes would fire back by making fun of Hudson, a hunter, for spending his winters sitting on treetops “trying to kill Bambi.”


“I already miss him,” Byrnes said.

There will be something strange about seeing Hudson wearing the uniform of the division rival Dodgers, but Byrnes acknowledged that “the O-Dog” may be where he belongs.

“He’s self-proclaimed Hollywood,” Byrnes said. “He loves it. He loves the spotlight.”

There wasn’t much of that in Arizona.

The Diamondbacks drew an average of 30,986 fans per game last season, 15th-best in baseball -- and that was in a season that followed a a National League West championship.

The Dodgers distributed an average of 46,056 tickets per game, trailing only the two New York teams -- and that was in a season that extended their NL pennant drought to 21 years.

“L.A. is a happening city, so to speak,” Dodgers outfielder Juan Pierre said. “I think he’ll fit in well. His style, he has flavor and he likes to talk.”

Hudson said he’s waited to play in a city like this his entire life. Growing up in South Carolina, where he still makes his off-season home, Hudson said he dreamed of one day playing for the New York Mets.

“It’s fun to go in front of that stage,” Hudson said.

He broke into the majors in 2002 with the Toronto Blue Jays, who never ranked higher than 23rd in reported attendance in his four years with the club. But he said some of his most memorable games took place in that period, pointing to the frequent trips the Blue Jays made to face the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.


“If you sneeze wrong, everything’s on ESPN,” Hudson said. “Fans know when you get a bunt down, when you roll over.”

L.A. might not be New York or Boston, but it’s close enough. “The biggest stage in the West is L.A.,” Hudson said.

But he didn’t sign with the Dodgers by design.

He suffered a season-ending wrist injury in August, one Dodgers trainer Stan Conte said might be unprecedented in baseball. Trying to catch a wild throw from pitcher Juan Cruz, Hudson fell on his wrist, dislocating a bone and damaging tendons.

Hudson, who in the previous off-season turned down a reported four-year, $29-million extension offer from the Diamondbacks, found that he was a difficult sell in an already slow free-agent market.

He said he understood.

“Why would you take a chance on someone like that?” he asked.

He drew interest from the Washington Nationals, who appeared to become less interested once they saw his medical reports.

Hudson wasn’t signed by the Dodgers until almost two weeks into spring training, settling for the kind of deal unbefitting a 31-year-old three-time Gold Glove winner: one year, guaranteed for $3.38 million.


He can earn an additional $4.62 million in performance incentives based on plate appearances. His $380,000 signing bonus and as much as $1.07 million of his incentive pay will be deferred without interest.

Playing in Los Angeles, however, he will be granted other opportunities.

He likes being around celebrities, for example -- something he was able to do in Toronto, where he met actors who were in town shooting movies.

He says he met director Spike Lee a couple of times and calls Deion Sanders, a teammate at triple-A Syracuse in 2002, one of his closest friends. Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child sang at his wedding in November.

“We can all relate the same way,” Hudson said of celebrities. “We all work hard. You see Will Smith, he’s dominating movies.”

The way Hudson wants to dominate on the field.

Hudson hopes that being in Los Angeles will not only increase his interactions with the A-list crowd -- in particular, he wants to meet Magic Johnson -- but also give him a larger platform for his autism foundation, CATCH.

“They always got pushed to the side where I grew up,” Hudson said of children with autism.

Hudson, who has a nephew with autism, said he has talked about his charity to actors Duane Martin and Tisha Campbell-Martin, who have a son with autism.


With April being Autism Awareness Month, Hudson said he has reached out to the likes of Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah Winfrey, Jay Leno and Tyra Banks in hopes that they’ll have him on their talk shows to discuss the disability.

If he is booked, he won’t have any trouble with the talking part.

Hudson talks so much that he managed to strike up a friendship with Pierre even though they were never teammates and didn’t exchange phone numbers until last year.

Pierre said they first met playing Class-A ball in 1999 when he was in Asheville, N.C., and Hudson was in Hagerstown, Md. During games, Pierre said, Hudson would constantly chirp in his ear.

“You better not try to steal that bag,” Pierre recalled Hudson’s telling him.

With age, the playful trash-talker became a leader.

“He takes charge,” Dodgers third base coach Larry Bowa said. “He has a lot of fun playing the game. His personality rubs off on the kids.”

It doesn’t hurt that he’s loud. “He’s not screaming,” Pierre said. “But he has a voice that carries.”

And he can play a bit too.

Hudson made spectacular defensive plays on an almost daily basis this spring, displaying the kind of range that 40-year-old Jeff Kent couldn’t provide last season. But he also took care of the routine plays.


“I think he’ll be a fan favorite right away,” Byrnes said. “He should be. He’s a perfect combination of the flashy new-age ballplayer and the old-school style of player.”

However much Hudson is told he’ll like it and be liked here, he still has one concern about L.A. -- he’s skeptical that he can find Southern cooking he likes.

Pierre, who is from Louisiana, has told him not to worry and has taken it upon himself to be Hudson’s dining guide.

They drove together to Los Angeles from Arizona on Wednesday and their first stop here was Roscoe’s House of Chicken ‘n’ Waffles on Pico. There’s more, Pierre said, naming M&M; Soul Food in the Crenshaw district and Uncle Darrow’s in Marina del Rey as future destinations.

Will Hudson be impressed?

“Man, it’s going to be better than Arizona,” Pierre said. “That’s desert out there.”




Orlando Hudson at a glance

Full name: Orlando Thill Hudson

Born: Dec. 12, 1977

Birthplace: Darlington, S.C.

Height: 6 feet

Weight: 190

Bats: Both

Throws: Right

Drafted: 1997, 43rd round, by Toronto

Major league debut: July 24, 2002

Last three seasons:

*--* Year Team G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI TB BB SO SB CS OBP SLG AVG 2006 ARI 157 579 87 166 34 9 15 67 263 61 78 9 6 354 454 287 2007 ARI 139 517 69 152 28 9 10 63 228 70 87 10 2 376 441 294 2008 ARI 107 407 54 124 29 3 8 41 183 40 62 4 1 367 450 305 *--*