Kyle Hudson with his father Darryl (left).

Kyle Hudson was a truly unique athlete in the history of Mattoon athletics. Hudson was a four-sport star for the Green Wave, earning 15 total varsity letters in football, baseball, basketball and track and field. And he leaped 6 feet, 10 inches to win the state high jump title in 2004. Hudson left MHS to play both football and baseball at the University of Illinois, where he played in the Rose Bowl and gained more than 1,000 yards combined for receiving and rushing across three seasons in football. Plus, he was named the team’s most outstanding wide receiver one season as well as the team’s newcomer of the year his freshman season. 

Hudson fared even better on the baseball diamond where he’s among career and season all-time leaders in several categories – second best for career batting average (.358), second best career on-base percentage (.459), second best for steals in a season (40) and third best in a career (66), and ninth all-time for having scored 61 runs in a season (2008). 

After getting selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the fourth round of the 2008 draft, Hudson stole 189 bases in eight-minor league seasons, reaching 40 twice in a single season before getting promoted to the major-league team for part of the 2011 season. 

Hudson is currently the bench coach for the Columbus Clippers, the Triple-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, after having served in a similar role for three seasons with the Class A Lynchburg Hillcats in the Carolina League.

Jeff Owens recently spoke with K-Hud and his father Darryl Hudson about coaching, Illini football and why the Orioles now apply the “Kyle Hudson Rule” in their minor-league system.

COLES COUNTY SPORTS: What do you like best about coaching baseball?

KYLE HUDSON: I love the fact that it keeps me around the game and fulfills the competition aspect that I need in my life. It also allows me to give back to a game that has given so much to me over the years. I am able to share my experiences with the players, as well as continue to learn as the game evolves. The satisfaction that I receive when my players are successful is just as satisfying as the successes I had as a player.

Kyle Hudson with wife Shaela and daughter Hadley.

CCS: Would you do anything differently as you look back on your playing days?

HUDSON: I would do anything and everything possible to continue my playing career. Towards the end of my playing days, I let the business side of professional baseball get the best of me. Regardless of the circumstances, it is a privilege to be able to run out on that field every day.

CCS: How often do you get back to Mattoon?

HUDSON: Even though I try to get back to Mattoon as much as possible, it is not as much as I would like. Family is the most important aspect of my life, so it is hard not having the opportunity to get home consistently. At this point in my coaching career, I only get to spend about four months out of the year in Peoria, where my wife and I live. My family has continued their unwavering support as I have moved on to the coaching side, so I am able to spend time with them as they visit throughout each baseball season.

CCS: What was it like to play in the Rose Bowl versus USC?

HUDSON: Overall, it was one of the neatest experiences of my life. We traveled to California a week prior to the game and everything we got to do leading up to the game was amazing. The actual game was a bit of disappointment for me, as I was a limited participate because of a pulled hamstring. I tried everything to be able go out there and play at the highest level, but it became apparent to me pretty quickly that wouldn’t be able to. Going into that game I knew there was a good possibility that this would be the last football game that I would ever play in, so that made it much harder for me to sit out the second half.

CCS: When you got called up to the Orioles major league team in 2011, what were you thinking?

HUDSON: The first thing that I thought after my (class) AAA manager told me was: I have to get a passport. I knew that the Orioles were heading to Toronto in less than a week and I hadn’t gotten my passport to be able to leave the country. A lot of people don’t realize that I started that season out with our single-A Frederick team, so I didn’t think there was any chance I would end up in Baltimore that season. To make a long story short, the Orioles now have the “Kyle Hudson Rule” throughout their minor league system. The rule makes it mandatory for all players in their minor-league system to have a passport.  

CCS: Is there one memory of playing in the Majors that stands out?

HUDSON: Playing centerfield in Fenway Park had to be one of my favorite memories. I can remember just pausing in between innings as I was standing out there and taking it all in. That was the moment where I had realized one of my dreams had come true. Another memory that still comes up to this day is scoring the tying run in Game 162 against the Red Sox. We eventually won the game and eliminated them from playoff contention.

CCS: Is there any advice you would like to tell the athletes back in Mattoon?

HUDSON: Play everything as long as you are having fun. Whenever I get an opportunity to speak to younger kids and their parents, I always preach about playing multiple sports. It will benefit the athlete’s development much more than just specializing in one sport. Many of the opportunities I got later in my athletic career (college and professional baseball) were because I had shown the ability to be an athlete, not just a football player or baseball player.

CCS: You played two sports at Illinois, what was the biggest challenge?

HUDSON: One of the toughest challenges I faced was trying to find time to be a normal college kid. Since I was always in season and pulling double-duty in the Spring, I didn’t have a lot of extra time for myself. I was immersed in becoming the best student-athlete I could be. Looking back on it, I wouldn’t do it any other way. But I have always wondered what it would have been like to have a semester off from competition at some point in my college career.  

CCS: When and where is your spring training with Columbus?

HUDSON: Our spring training facility is based in Goodyear, Arizona. Being a (Class) AAA coach, a majority of the players that I will be working with during the season will be in Major League camp and that report date is around the 15th of February. Our spring training in Goodyear goes until the first couple of days in April.

CCS: Do you have a goal to coach in the Majors?

HUDSON: I think it’s always a goal to reach the highest level in whatever it is you do. In my case, the ML (major leagues) is the pinnacle of the profession. I would love an opportunity to work with major-league players every day. With that being said, there are other jobs within professional baseball that allow a person to live a more family-oriented lifestyle and that is something definitely appealing to me as well.

CCS: Your thoughts on the Astros controversy?

HUDSON: Sorry. Not allowed to comment.

CCS: Did you keep some of your playing gear? If so, what is your prized possession?

HUDSON: One of the pieces I cherish the most from my playing days is a ball that was given to me by my teammates after I got my first major-league hit. It is a tradition in baseball to get to keep the ball after you get your first hit. My teammates had written some funny comments about my first hit on a different ball and presented it to me in the clubhouse after the game. This ball, along with the actual first hit ball, are displayed in my basement to this day.

Here are comments from Kyle’s father, Darryl Hudson. 

Obviously his whole family is very proud of him, but I am most proud of the person he is. Through all of his success and some notoriety, he has never changed. The way he treats people with respect and has time for anyone. He never got cocky and, to this day, enjoys spending time with his friends from his childhood. Just as he was, we were all disappointed when his playing days were over, but to watch him teach and pass on the knowledge to the younger kids he is coaching is very satisfying. Being a former athlete myself, although not at the elite level as Kyle, I know the competitiveness doesn’t leave you. He has adjusted pretty well to the change.

Funny tidbit: He told me one Sunday afternoon when he was in eighth grade as he was practicing signing his autograph, ‘I am going to be the first professional baseball player ever drafted out of junior high.’ That was not being cocky to me, that was being confident in his abilities and he was willing to put in the work to achieve his ultimate goal of being in the big leagues. He worked his butt off to make the dream come true. Having goals and dreams are a great thing for young kids.

As Kyle was being scouted by the major league scouts, I had the opportunity to talk to several of them. The one thing they all said was how impressed they were by his background with the four sports as it helped develop various skills. At the Illinois baseball hot stove banquet last Saturday, Buck Showalter was the speaker. He managed the Orioles when Kyle was called up. He talked about deciding who they would bring up from the minor leagues for September. He said besides conversing with his minor league coaches, he also got online and looked at the bios of some of the players. He was impressed with Kyle’s multisport background and wanted to see what he could do. He believes it is a big plus for kids as well to participate in multiple sports.

Kyle also talks below about the “Kyle Hudson rule” with the Orioles about having a passport. I know parents have gut feelings from time to time about their kids. As the year went on and he moved from (class) A ball to Double-A ball to Triple-A, I had a gut feeling he was going to get a September call up. He was having a great season and doing everything so well. When he got to Triple A, I started getting on him about getting a passport. His response was, “They won’t call me up.” I stayed on him for a month about it, but he didn’t do it. When he got the call, no passport, and they were going to Toronto after New York. He had to go to the federal building in New York and get a passport so he could travel to Toronto.

He has given our entire family opportunities to go places and see things that other people may never be able to do. Through it all, this has been a complete family affair, and we will all continue to support and follow him and his family wherever his future leads.