Monday, February 07, 2005

3/13/2002 Todd Hundley Article

Do to the recent requests of Tawd watch, I thought I would throw out an archived Todd hundley article, notice the title of the article is "back in top shape". Yet the person wrote about how Tawd was hot-boxing cigarettes in the club-house, in the same article! God Bless the media!



Hundley back in top shape — physically and mentally

By Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY Baseball Weekly
By Barbara Jean Germano, Baseball Weekly

The only active catchers with more career home runs than Hundley are Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez.

Todd Hundley

MESA, Ariz. — The Chicago Cubs' clubhouse is nearly vacant. The carpet is vacuumed. The uniforms are folded. The shoes are polished.

The clubhouse attendants, who watched the players leave 2 1/2 hours ago, still wait for one last man before they can lock the doors for the night.

They sit. They wait. Finally, walking in with his body covered with sweat and grime, is the same guy that has kept the clubbies late all spring.

It is Todd Hundley.

Hundley arrived in camp having shed 12 pounds, down to 195, and feeling the best he has since 1997. He's on a mission. Hundley not only is trying to regain the form that made him one of the finest power-hitting catchers in the game, but he's also trying to erase the demons of last season.

Hundley stops to get a couple of bags of ice for his knees. He heads for the laundry room, and for the next hour, sits slumped on a stool, smoking one cigarette after another, trying to make sense of the anguish that ravaged his body and spirit.

It had been not only the pressure and distractions of coming home, the expectations of being a high-priced free agent, but also playing in the shadow of his father, former Cubs catching great Randy Hundley.

"Man, what I experienced last year, I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy," Hundley says. "It's like my whole life was ripped out from under me. It was a nightmare. It was the second-worst summer of my life.

"The worst was the previous year.

"When my mom died."

Hundley stops talking, takes a long drag on his cigarette, and shuts his eyes. It's as if he is allowing all of last season to flash through his mind. The benching on Opening Day. The .187 batting average. The 83 games missed.

And the booing — the constant booing and taunting by his hometown fans.

"I wasn't myself last year," Hundley said. "I wasn't even close to being the same person. I apologized to (manager) Don Baylor and (president) Andy MacPhail. That wasn't me. I'm embarrassed by what happened."

What happened, Hundley and his friends now believe, is that he still had not emotionally recovered from the death of his mother, Betty. While the rest of the Hundley family was having counseling and therapy just four days after her death in August 2000, Hundley still was playing baseball for the Dodgers.

It wasn't until he signed three months later — a four-year, $23.5 million contract with the Cubs — that it finally hit him. He had been away from home for so long. When he spent time at the house he grew up in, and saw his family and longtime friends, he was overcome with grief.

"That was by far his biggest problem, not having his mom here," Randy Hundley says. "He just didn't have the time and the opportunity to grieve his mom's death like the rest of us did. And they were so close. I don't think even Todd realized how much he depended on her.

"He spent almost the entire season fighting depression. He was in depression all through spring training. And when he didn't start on Opening Day, that put him in a deeper state of depression. That was very, very upsetting to him.

"And then he lost his confidence, started doubting his own ability and started pressing.

"You know what the ironic thing is?

"If his mom had been alive, she never would have allowed him to come to Chicago. She always felt like the pressure was too much for him to come play here."

Hundley, remembering that his mom always told him never to come back home to play, says he had a dream one night that she actually gave her blessing. It was now OK to play for the Cubs. He still had tons of friends and family back home. He remembers former teammate Darryl Strawberry telling him about the difficulties of returning home to play.

And he knew that he constantly would be compared to his father.

Still, Hundley believed enough time had passed. He thought he was mentally prepared for the challenge.

"Man, was I ever wrong," Hundley says. "It started in spring training and went downhill from there. I started bad, started pressing, and never recovered. I mean, I love baseball. I'm usually one of those guys who just likes hanging at the ballpark after games.

"But last year, I couldn't stand going there.

"And I couldn't wait to leave."

It was hard to blame him. Nagging injuries plagued him all year. He was reduced to a platoon role. He hit only five home runs until September. He was unmercifully booed at Wrigley, louder than any Cub in memory.

Hundley, 32, did everything possible this winter to ensure that he returns to his All-Star form. He hired a nutritionist, changed his diet and stopped drinking. He went to bed early each night, then was back in the weight room and batting cage in the morning.

"I worked out this winter on the little things. I worked on my stomach muscles, hamstrings and shoulders. It helps so much. I started losing weight, but I had more energy, and was quicker. I had three workouts a day, but now I feel 100% better.

"The only trouble is I'm constantly hungry."

Hundley sits back and laughs, watching the smoke disappear into the air.

It feels good to be back.

"I'm telling you, the way he looks, his whole attitude, is completely different than last season," Baylor says.

"Really, the difference is like night and day. He looks so much more comfortable now. And he's relaxed.

"He could be a big key for us."

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