“We didn’t exactly plan to have a baby in the middle of the playoffs,” Hudson said.
The Washington Nationals won the first game of the NLCS over the St. Louis Cardinals without Hudson, then called on Hudson to save Saturday’s 3-1 victory in Game 2. A humane choice. The right choice.
“Who could think anything else?” asked Mark Lerner, the club’s owner.
This is, for the Nats, an unprecedented playoff run. Yet all this time, Hudson’s wife had a due date: Oct. 14. That led Daniel and Sara Hudson to pull out their calendars and start mapping out days. If the Nats won the wild-card game and if the division series against the Los Angeles Dodgers was pushed to a decisive fifth game, maybe Daniel could shoot home to Phoenix, Sara could pop out the kid on command, and the Nats’ run could continue unhindered.
Except this whole miracle-of-life thing can’t really be coordinated on Outlook.
“You try to plan something,” Hudson said, “and everything goes crazy.”
Try to make a controversy out of this. I mean, if you’re a small-minded thief of a washed-up former baseball executive — such as David Samson, the ex-president of the Marlins — then maybe you try to label Hudson’s move as “unreal” and poke the bear.
“Only excuse would be a problem with the birth or health of baby or mother,” Samson tweeted Friday. “If all is well, he needs to get to St. Louis. Inexcusable.”
Nice job, buddy! Encourage speculation about the health of the mother in a private moment, all while questioning the father’s professional commitment. But that’s where Hudson found himself Friday, holding his youngest daughter as he tried to watch his teammates take a step toward a pennant on TV, all while finding himself as the main talking point of a discourse on commitment to family and profession, on the balance between home and work.
“I went from not having a job on March 21 to this huge national conversation on family values going into the playoffs,” Hudson said. “Like, hey. Life comes at you fast, man. I don’t know how that happened and how I became the face for whatever conversation was going on.”
You know who thinks that’s ridiculous? The Nationals.
“If your reaction to someone having a baby is anything other than, ‘Congratulations, I hope everybody’s healthy,’ ” reliever Sean Doolittle said, “You’re an [rear end].”
That’s the view from the clubhouse. What about the front office, which actually has to handle the decision?
“It was a no-brainer,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said.
That’s not just because the Nats lead the series 2-0. This has all worked out perfectly because Aníbal Sánchez and Sean Doolittle were the only pitchers needed while Hudson was gone. After that game, Manager Dave Martinez texted his absent closer: “Hey, I got a name for your little girl: Anibala Sean Hudson.” When it came time to get the final two outs Saturday, Hudson induced a soft fly to left from Paul Goldschmidt and a popup from Marcell Ozuna. Ho-hum.
“Having a baby is the biggest blessing in the world,” Hudson said. “To come out here and get a save in a playoff game is second to that, but it’s pretty cool.”
What wasn’t cool: the wait for little Millie to arrive. The rules at their Phoenix hospital, which only make sense: Those mothers who are having children naturally get their turns before those who are hoping to induce. So even though Hudson had a 7 a.m. flight from Los Angeles to Phoenix on Thursday — only hours after the Nats had closed out the Dodgers — Sara wasn’t immediately able to get a room. They had to wait until Thursday night to check into the hospital. Millie wasn’t born until early Friday.
“Stubborn little thing,” Martinez said.
That’s important to keep in mind here if you have even the slightest inclination to believe Hudson was shirking his duties. In fact, he tried to set up the birth of his child around the baseball schedule. But even after Millie arrived, it’s not like there are unlimited flights from Phoenix to St. Louis, and it’s not like — even if Hudson could have caught one — he would have been mentally or physically prepared to protect a 2-0 lead in the ninth Friday.
“Not a lot of sleep the last few nights,” Hudson said.
That’s what happened. The point is, the Nats bought into the entire plan.
“These decisions are easy,” Rizzo said. “A happy player is a performing player. We’ve got to take care of our people. You have to treat this like a family. And the important thing is, we’ve got a new little member of the Nationals family.”
There was a time — and it wasn’t all that long ago — when baseball executives would have uttered something far different and likely unprintable. We are no longer in that time. Major League Baseball first instituted a paternity list — a minimum of one day missed, a maximum of three — in 2011. But it hadn’t considered such an accommodation for October until the case of a Toronto pitcher named Aaron Loup in 2015.
Loup’s wife unexpectedly gave birth during the division series, and because there was no way to replace him on the roster, the Blue Jays had to play short. That offseason, MLB changed the rules. Yet the postseason paternity list had never been used — until now.
“I was like, ‘I can’t be the only person to have a baby in the middle of the postseason,’ ” Hudson said. “And for it to blow up like it did, man, it’s kind of crazy.”
What’s crazy is how big leaguers used to handle all this. Rizzo pointed to one of his own lieutenants, Bob Boone, who had a 19-year major league career.
“I don’t think he saw any of his three kids born,” Rizzo said. “We’re in a different world now.”
Thank goodness. This is what any employee wants: the backing of his bosses and his colleagues so he can make the best decisions for himself and his family. That’s all this is. The reaction after Hudson landed at 11 a.m. and made it to the ballpark for a 3 p.m. start, according to Hudson: “Hugs all around. High-fives all around.”
“I heard somebody say one time: Baseball’s what I do, it’s not who I am,” Hudson said. “Once I had kids, it really resonated with me.”
It should resonate with us all. So, Daniel: Congratulations. Glad everyone’s healthy. Now there’s a World Series berth at stake. Go ahead and pitch.
For more by Barry Svrluga, visit washingtonpost.com/svrluga.