Sunday, March 23, 2008


Hold me to these words: If Orlando Hudson - or "O" as the players call him - ever runs for governor he will win by a landslide. The guy seriously knows everyone in the state. He runs the show here at the Suns game. He knows the security guards, players, photogs, parking attendants and even a referee. He works it. He's loud, friendly and in a bright yellow shirt.

He always asks what someone's name is when they come up for a picture or an autograph and he has a way of making each person feel a 'special connection' with him, whether it's calling a security guard 'brother' or fist pounding with a fan.

"Man, you're working out there!" Hudson says to an out of breath referee during a break in the game. "I couldn't do it. I tell you man, I couldn't do what you do." The referee laughs and comes over to chat with the pro.

At halftime Hudson leads the crew and I across the court under the tunnel and with a simple, "They're with me," we're led to a VIP buffet with salads, pasta, fruit, turkey, hot dogs and desert. The whole time he's shaking hands, saying "what's up man" and cracking jokes. "He's funny, isn't he?" Augie Ojeda says to me. "Half the time none of us can understand what he's saying because he talks so fast but it's always funny."

The Suns dominate over the Rockets with a 122-113 win and immediately fans run up to Hudson and Justin Upton asking for pictures and autographs. Los Angeles Angels pitcher Justin Speier, who was in the crowd, comes over to say hi to the guys and starts shooting some baskets from our courtside seats. Hudson picks up the basketball and the fans cheer. First one's a miss. Second one's nothing but net. "Justin shoot!" yell the fans at Upton, but the shy newbie just shakes his head. "I don't want to miss," he confesses. "Oh, no one will care," I insist. "They all know you play baseball for a reason. They won't like make fun of you."

"Oh yes they will," counters Chris Young who still hasn't completely warmed up to me like the other players. "They all talk."

So as we leave the game we're escorted by security down the tunnel underground to where all the Suns players park their cars. "Thanks for making the guys look good," says a security guard. I just laugh. The guys want to go out but first things first. "You all better buy me some food!" Hudson says. "I didn't get to eat the buffet cause I was waiting for your asses and running around and getting tickets. I'm hungry!"

We all pile in Orlando Hudson's huge white SUV to drive next door to their baseball headquarters, Drake stadium, where our cars are parked. Everyone drove separately so it looks like a scene out of Swingers as five cars follow each other into town.

"You are young bucks," Hudson says to Justin Upton and Chris Young while munching on hamburgers and fries at dinner. "It's okay, I was there once." Young is a bit less accepting of the lecture, while Upton just listens. "Everyone's going to be looking at you," he tells Upton. "They want to see what you can do. You can't think about it. You've got to go out and do your thing."

"That's what I'm gonna do," agrees Upton.

"He's right," Young says. "You have more to prove."

After the guys get their food, the four of us head down the street to the club E4. Robby Hammock's already gone home to crash. The bouncers immediately recognize Hudson, of course. We are escorted to a table where the guys chill, chat and people watch. They groove a bit but when a crew of skimpily dressed groupies come over, the guys brush them off.

"Phoenix is so small," says Upton. "You see the same people every time you go out." After a few people come up asking for autographs, they happily sign away but I can tell they've had enough. Before we leave, Upton and I conspire together to have the DJ announce to the club that it's Hudson's birthday -which it's definitely not. "Did you do that! You did that didn't you?" Hudson says laughing as I return with a guilty look on my face.

"It works better at dinner when like five waiters come over and sing," I say to Upton.

"Yeah, you're right," he agrees. "But I like where your heads at."

We call it a night by 12:30am, say our goodbyes and promise to stay in touch when they come to L.A. to play the Dodgers.