All of this seemed ridiculously improbable when Tim Hudson graduated from high school with the reality that his only chance to play baseball at the next level was being offered by Chattahoochee Valley Community College in his hometown, Phenix City, Ala.

Those who understood the heart and determination of the 6-foot, 160-pound pitcher were not shocked that he used his experience at CVCC to earn a chance to play at nearby Auburn University. And those who saw him during his magical 1997 season with Auburn were not floored when he continued to grow and reached the Major League level with the A's two years later.

But as Hudson prepares to begin his 15th Major League season, he can't help but acknowledge that he has lived a dream that once would have seemed impossible, even in a fantasy world.

"I'd have had a better chance of winning the lottery," Hudson said. "Out of high school, if you would have told me, 'In 20 years, this is where your life is going to be,' I'd be like, 'You are crazy. There is no chance.'"

Life seemed grand when Hudson made his Major League debut and then spent each of his first six seasons with the A's. Things seemed to get even better in December 2004, when he learned that he had been traded to Atlanta, approximately two hours from his hometown.

Hudson's love for the Braves began back in the days of Dale Murphy and extended through his college years, during which Chipper Jones made his Major League debut. Like any young pitcher, he aspired to be like Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.

Over the course of eight seasons, he has had the pleasure of being in the rotation with Glavine and Smoltz. And now that Jones has retired, the same kid who had to attend his hometown community college is the longest-tenured player on the Braves.