Huston Street had heard it several times before.
Over the last several years, the popular San Diego Padres reliever had spoken at any number of offseason events, and invariably he’d always be introduced to the crowd as the “All-Star closer.”
Nice gesture, but it was wrong.
Street never corrected the emcee. But inside he cringed a little.
“You know it’s not true,” Street said. “You want it to be real.”
It all came true one day last July when manager Bud Black called him into his office and gave him big news. Street thought to himself that he hadn’t shown up late, so he didn’t figure he was in trouble. He wasn’t.
But he was full of elation when he learned he had been selected to the National League All-Star team for the first time in his eight-year career. He was legit. He was somebody. Or more of a somebody.
And so he did what all professional ballplayers do in good times. He hugged his manager, a typical reaction for this humble ex-Longhorn great who still yes-sirs reporters.
Most would say Street had already proved his worth long before he was honored during last season, when he turned in one of the top years by any major-league closer. He converted 23 of 24 save chances. He didn’t fail his team all season until the eventual world-champion Giants homered twice off him in the 159th game of the year. They were the only home runs he allowed the entire season.
Just don’t tell Street that he has arrived. He doesn’t want to risk compromising his uncommon drive to excel. That said, he was a kid in a baseball candy store as he rubbed All-Star elbows those few days with Derek Jeter and Ryan Braun and Joey Votto. There he was, too, a 29-year-old kid from Texas who was giddy when he broke the news to his wife, Lacey, that they’d have to cancel their planned All-Star week vacation to Napa Valley.
Street took his then-19-month-old son, Ripken, on the field with him, and keeps snapshots of the two of them in his spring training locker. He asked for no autographs during the festivities in Kansas City, shot no videos to reflect on after his career, and kind of thinks he should have.
But Street never gets too caught up in sentimentality or material things. This is a guy who has a cracked screen on his iPhone4 that he hasn’t bothered to fix or replace since he dropped it during a cookout at teammate Jason Marquis’ condo a couple of months ago.
“I’m not cheap,” he protests. “I just don’t invest in depreciating assets.”
Neither do the Padres, who see a lot of value in Street despite six trips to the disabled list. Last summer, they extended his contract with an club option year for 2014.
The show of faith in the right-hander with the outstanding slider and a changeup that he’s fine-tuned since he began fiddling with in 2006 meant everything to Street. He chose to stick in San Diego because of the beautiful city, the steady presence of a former veteran major-league pitcher in his manager and pitching coach Darren Balsley, security for his wife and two sons, and his access to Padres legend Trevor Hoffman, one of the best closers of all time.
Street has picked Hoffman’s brain constantly in the clubhouse, on buses, during road trips, wherever he’s encountered him.
“I’ve spent hours around him,” Street said. “He and Mariano Rivera are in the same conversation as the best ever. … He had 601 saves. You’d love to (match that). It’s tough when you say you’ve got to save 40 games the next 10 years in a row. But yeah, you have to dream. Absolutely.”
Street knows he has a ways to go, but he’s yet to turn 30, and most of his injuries have been of the bad-luck variety. The fences at Petco Park have been moved in, but it will remain one of the most pitcher-friendly stadiums in the majors.
He still has a 91-mph fastball, that improved changeup and good, late movement on his trademark slider, a pitch that works better in San Diego than in the cool, thin air in Colorado which he likens to the difference between “spinning a cue ball on a pool table versus a countertop. It doesn’t bite in Colorado.”
Little is expected of the Padres in one of baseball’s toughest divisions, including the Giants, who have won two of the last three World Series, but Street thinks his club “is going to be sneaky” and much improved. He wants to do his part and further his street cred.
“I’m willing to acknowledge I feel I’ve accomplished something,” Street said. “But I want to do something great. I’m never satisfied. It was great getting recognition as an All-Star. But I want to go back every year.”
RANGERS VS. PADRES
Friday: 7 p.m., Alamodome, FSSW Plus (Time Warner, 77)
Saturday: 1 p.m., Alamodome, FSSW