It's no surprise that Hudler's role model is Cal Ripken Jr., who was drafted one round after him in '78. As fate would have it, Hudler played a part in Ripken's record 2,131th consecutive game last Sept. 6. With two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth and Ripken batting, Hudler whispered to himself at second base, "Please hit it to me, please, please." Sure enough, on the first pitch, Ripken lined a soft flare to right center. "I thought, This is your chance, Hud!" says Hudler. "If I have to die running down this ball, I will."
He made an over-the-shoulder catch on the dead run. "I couldn't believe it," says Hudler. "It was like I'd caught a diamond somebody threw up for grabs." He shook the ball and ran whooping back to the Angels dugout. "That ball is my greatest baseball treasure," he says. "There's not another one like it." Especially since his two-year-old daughter, Alyssa, scribbled all over it with a pen.
Hudler's contract expires in October. "I hope to end my career in Japan," he says. He says that he prefers the Japanese game, with its unspoken standards of dignity and honor, its reliance on group discipline and mutual support. "On the other hand," he says, "I might take Notre Dame up on that football scholarship after all." He cracks a smile, a big, beguiling, bug-eating smile. "With Wonder Dog, you never know."