Current Braves feel Maddux's influence
Hudson, Kawakami looked up to famed hurler in youth
ATLANTA -- Just looking around the crowded ballroom at the Omni Hotel in downtown Atlanta, it was easy to see the influence that Greg Maddux had on the world of baseball. As the Braves honored Maddux by inducting him into the organization's Hall of Fame and retiring his No. 31, his immense legacy was celebrated at the largest induction gathering in Braves history.
His peers gushed over his uncanny abilities while upwards of 900 Braves fans stood and applauded.
But there is perhaps no better illustration of Maddux's gigantic footprint on the game of baseball than the sentiments of two current Braves players from very different backgrounds.
As a high-schooler at the Glenwood School in Phenix City, Ala., Braves pitcher Tim Hudson watched as Maddux anchored the fabled Atlanta rotations of the early 1990s. Like Maddux, Hudson wasn't blessed with great size or a blazing fastball. Seeing Maddux baffle big league hitters provided a young Hudson with someone to look up to.
"[The ceremony] was really cool for me," Hudson said. "I was in high school when those guys really started coming on in the 90s. Me being a small, right-handed sinkerballer, he was pretty much my idol."
That's high praise coming from a pitcher who has won 146 big league games himself, but the admiration is certainly warranted.
"It might be pretty weird for him to know I look up to him," Hudson said. "As good of a career as I've had up to now, I still look up to him."
Although it may have been normal for a teenager from the southeast to worship Maddux, it's quite another thing for a young man the same age as Hudson on the other side of the globe to look up to No. 31.
Braves pitcher Kenshin Kawakami had little knowledge of who Maddux was until a friend of his returned to Japan from America with a Maddux T-shirt. After that, Kawakami began to study the 355-game winner and wore the shirt regularly around his college dorm in Japan.
"It wasn't that he was my first favorite player," Kawakami said through his interpreter. "After I got the shirt, I started watching him pitch. Then I became his biggest fan."
Halfway around the world, Maddux's influence was just as profound as it was just across the Alabama border. The young Kawakami had no idea he would one day play for the team that Maddux helped drive to unprecedented success or wear that uniform during the ceremony retiring his jersey.
"Being on this team that he played on and succeeded for so much and being there today was very special," Kawakami said.
As humble as Maddux is despite his greatness, he realizes the effect he had on the players that followed him. He remembers the players who he looked up to, and he took the responsibility of guiding younger players very seriously.
Maddux's success in inspiring those who came after him was evident by the outpouring of praise that came from the current batch of Braves, no matter what background they are from.
"I know some players influenced me as a young player coming up," Maddux said. "You try to pass that down. You want to say the right thing and really make sure you don't say the wrong thing. Because sometimes that wrong thing will set you back a lot worse than saying the right thing will help you. It's nice to hear that maybe I didn't say the wrong thing."
Adam Rosenberg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.