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Hundley putting '12 firmly in the rearview mirror

Hundley putting '12 firmly in the rearview mirror play video for Hundley putting '12 firmly in the rearview mirror

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Nick Hundley spent New Year's Eve in Las Vegas, but he didn't dress up for the occasion, nor did he hit the Strip with the intention of bidding a fond farewell to 2012.

Hold the bubbly. Hundley had something else in mind.

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Standing on the back patio of his parents' home, Hundley pulled out a copy of the Padres' 2012 schedule, glanced at it briefly, then disposed of it in a manner he deemed appropriate.

"I burned it," Hundley said, smiling.

He wasn't alone, either. Hundley's father, Tim, the safeties coach at UNLV, did the exact same thing for the Rebels' 2012 football schedule, one that ended with a 2-11 record.

Fire, paper and ashes. So long, 2012. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

What began as a year full of promise for Hundley ended with him counting the days until 2013 arrived. It was bad in so many different ways. The worst part, though, was that he was often his own worst enemy.

"Professionally, it was miserable," Hundley said. "Personally and spiritually, it was tough, but I learned a lot about myself and my goals and where I want to go."

Sitting in a San Diego restaurant last month, Hundley breezed through the painful details of last season -- the high expectations that accompanied his $9 million contract extension in May, his mighty struggles at the plate, his resistance to change and a knee injury that eventually led to surgery.

"It got to the point where I lost control of the situation," Hundley said.

That's a dark place Hundley never wants to revisit. He's here in camp knowing that the team is counting on him to rebound. With Yasmani Grandal suspended for the first 50 games, Hundley will get that chance right away.

Hundley is smiling again. His knee is healed, and he said that for everything that went bad a year ago, he'll be better off for it moving forward.

"I grew a lot as a person. That's what I'm going to take from it," Hundley said.

So what went wrong? How did Hundley, who hit .367 with a 1.060 OPS in the second half of 2011, drop off the radar?

"I think I put so much pressure on myself," he said. "Coming off the second half I had, I think that I put more pressure on myself to produce than I ever had. When that didn't happen, I put the pressure of trying to carry the Padres and helping us win when we started out terribly.

"I took that hard. I didn't do a good enough job of slowing down."

Hundley started the season hitless in his first 21 at-bats, with eight strikeouts. He hit .217 in April as the team struggled, finishing the month 7-17. In May, Hundley hit .123, followed by a .157 mark in June. By the time the team optioned him to Triple-A Tucson, he had a .108/.166/.226 line.

"To start off, my focus was in the wrong places. I was focused on the contract, proving that I deserved it, instead of going out and just playing," Hundley said. "I was disappointed that I wasn't strong mentally and going through the struggles like I had in the past.

"It just kind of spiraled out of control. I couldn't stop it. I got to a place where I had trouble sleeping. … I was so worried about the result instead of the process of doing what I needed to do to be successful."

That process involved working with first-year hitting coach Phil Plantier. Or, as it turned out, not working with Plantier, as Hundley felt he could fix himself mechanically from a hitting standpoint. He realizes now what a bad idea that was.

"I wish I would have been more open. I can honestly say if I was a little more open, I wouldn't have gone through what I did so much. I wish I was a little less stubborn," Hundley said. "But that's something I'm going to take forward. You constantly have to adapt."

Compounding his problems was an injury he sustained to his right knee in mid-April, when Huston Street misfired on a backdoor slider, causing Hundley to shift out of his stance to block the ball. When that happened, his foot was blocked by the plate umpire's foot, and the foot rolled over.

Hundley tore the meniscus in his right knee, though he was still able to play on it. In August, he had surgery to repair the tear, effectively ending a season that, in his mind, was already long gone.

"It was really hard for me," Hundley said of the 2012 season. "I felt like I let a lot of people down, like [assistant general manager A.J. Hinch] and [general manager Josh Byrnes], who gave me that contract. These guys believed in me, and I didn't get it done.

"Watching the team play was tough, but I got to sit back and analyze a lot of things. I then realized how negative my thought process was. It took a long time to figure that out, to get out of that. I'm working on getting away from the things that were holding me back."

Healthy by December, Hundley worked closely with Plantier this winter. That included sessions at Petco Park and also inside the cage Plantier has at his home in nearby Poway. There wasn't a whole lot of looking back, but more moving forward.

"The beautiful thing about all of it is, mentally he has bounced back," Plantier said. "We don't even talk about last year any more. The day after he was cleared to work in December, he was at my house. He came over and went over what he wanted to get done, and then he accomplished it. So I expect him to bounce back to where he's been before."

The rest, of course, is up to Hundley.

"Right around December, I got back to feeling like me," Hundley said. "I know what I expect, what I want from this game, why I play this game. Instead of trying to please people, I'm going out there to do it for myself, my family and the people who believe in me."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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