Earlier this season Todd Hundley thought he discovered the perfect way to deal with the jeers that accompanied his every move at Wrigley Field. He took a foray into virtual reality.
"I'd mentally transform myself and pretend that I was in New York," he said.When he played for the Mets, Hundley came to accept that he would be a target of venom. Only during a miserable 2001 season did he discover that his hometown fans in Chicago would not offer a free pass.
"Last year I took it personal," he said of the boos. "This year I'm not."
Hundley finally silenced the hecklers Friday in the Cubs' 8-4 victory over the White Sox. For nearly three hours he didn't have to respond to the fans behind the dugout who had made a hobby of ripping him.
The Cubs catcher went 3-for-4 with two home runs and guided right-hander Matt Clement through another solid performance on a dark, rainy day on the North Side.
"What a great game for Todd Hundley," said Clement, who lasted 7 2/3 innings. "You have to be happy for him."
A week ago, when Hundley was hitting .138, some self-proclaimed Cubs fans created a Web site called "dumpToddHundley.com."
They projected his season totals--35 hits, 61 strikeouts--and asked visitors to the site to send Hundley a letter asking him to retire.
There was also a call for a "Dump Todd Hundley Day." It was set to take place Friday before being postponed.
So is it any wonder Hundley, who acknowledged he "deserved" to be booed, said after the game that he sometimes regretted signing his four-year, $23.5 million deal before the 2001 season?
"I [figured] I had to deal with it and make my adjustments and produce, period," he said. "I'm not worried about the fans. They're not who motivate me. I have a contract I have to live up to with the Chicago Cubs."
Hundley, who entered the game 1-for-16 at home, singled and scored off Sox right-hander Job Garland in the second.
One inning later he whacked Garland's first-pitch fastball off the windscreen beyond right field. Then he took reliever Keith Foulke onto Sheffield Avenue in the sixth to put the Cubs ahead 6-2.
"That's what I remember Todd doing against me in Colorado all the time," Cubs manager Don Baylor said. "He hit two monster home runs. He looks good. He's confident."
All along Hundley has insisted that he couldn't produce without consistent playing time. Is that the reason for the 9-for-19 streak that has boosted his average to .218?
"Who cares what it is?" Baylor replied. "I just know he's getting his pitches and not missing them. Today he was locked in."
He wasn't the only one.
Sox first baseman Paul Konerko almost single-handedly kept his team in the game by ripping a pair of two-run homers.
Before the game Baylor jokingly had applauded Manuel's decision not to start Frank Thomas at first.
"If they want to put [ Magglio] Ordonez on the bench, they can do that too," Baylor said.
After the game Baylor found himself hoping Thomas would start Saturday instead of Konerko. No such luck.
"A guy gives you two home runs and gives you a shot, you definitely can't take him out," Sox manager Jerry Manuel said.
Baylor, who would need a court order to keep Hundley out of the lineup Saturday, lauded the fans for showering Hundley with an ovation before his fourth at-bat.
"Players appreciate that," he said.
"To be honest, I didn't really listen," Hundley said. "I blocked it out."