Baseball

The decisions that helped Huston Street become one of Texas’ all-time best

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Huston Street always intended to be a Longhorn. The son of late Texas quarterback and pitcher James Street, Huston knew from the time he was five years old he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps on the Forty Acres.

“What if you’re not good enough to play sports at UT?” James asked Huston.

“Well, I guess I won’t play sports,” Huston replied.

Street, currently a student assistant coach for the Longhorn baseball program, never took or received any shortcuts to achieve his athletic successes at Texas. Before he became the 2002 College World Series’ most outstanding player, the 2005 American League rookie of the year, or a two-time MLB all-star, and before he becomes the next Longhorn baseball player to have his jersey number retired, Street worked to the point his skill and ability matched his level of competitiveness.

Whether it be childhood hours spent with his brothers, a punishing lesson from Cedric Benson, guidance from Augie Garrido, or a drastic change in mechanics spurred by Garrido’s assistant Frank Anderson, each step Street took was part of the journey toward being chosen for one of Texas’ highest athletic honors.

Huston and his brothers would throw whatever ball they could find around their Westlake home. The Street children would run to Austin Country Club and find tennis balls to play with in their backyard. When the group ran out of tennis balls, they’d throw basketballs, then soccer balls, racquetballs, and finally golf balls until Street’s mother eliminated the last piece of equipment from continued use.

Street credits his control on the mound to that time spent in the backyard with his family. “I got my 10,000 hours in by (age) 12,” Street said in an interview. Even if many of those hours were behind his father’s back.

“Dad used to come home and say ‘boys, how long have y’all been out here playing?’” Street said. “We’d lie and say three hours. We’d been out there for eight hours.”

Huston Street (courtesy of Texas Athletics)

Street attended Westlake High School, and for his first two years didn’t resemble the professional athlete he’d become. Between his sophomore and junior year, he hit a growth spurt and saw his athleticism increase.

He played football and baseball for the Chaps. He didn’t start on the football field his junior year even after a growth spurt. He didn’t even start on the mound for WHS. He started at shortstop, and took a major risk in choosing not to wear a cup, a decision he jokingly said continued throughout the rest of his career. “I was that good of a fielder,” Street said.

His baseball destiny changed in a district matchup his junior year against New Braunfels. Street started at his normal shortstop position as the Unicorns quickly took a 5-0 lead on the Chaps. Street was placed on the mound in the first inning, and his pitching career began.

Westlake didn’t allow another run and won the game 7-5. Street’s velocity was in the mid-80s, but it was his control that stood out. His fastball eventually touched 90 mph the following summer, and that mark caught the attention of Frank Anderson, Texas’ pitching coach at the time.

Anderson saw a good performance on his summer scouting trip as Street struck out four of the six batters he faced during a game in Waco. Anderson also saw the way Street battled in everything he did.

“How competitive he was,” said Anderson, now an assistant coach at Tennessee, about what he noticed about Street. “You could see the competitive spirit at the camp and how he would hustle from one stage to another, and how he would go about it.”

Anderson went back to Austin and conversed with Texas’ head coach, Augie Garrido, and the coaches decided to offer Street a scholarship. The Streets were friends with Tommy Harmon, another Longhorn assistant, who happened to be James’ battery-mate at Texas. Harmon was the one who called James to tell him the good news.

Huston’s parents walked into his room and told him he had received a baseball scholarship offer from Texas.

“I just started balling crying,” Street said. “I was so excited.”

His competitiveness didn’t just manifest itself on the diamond. It appeared on the football field, too. Street played for the 2000 Westlake football team that reached the UIL 5A Division I championship game. His Chaps met Midland Lee, led by star running back Cedric Benson.

Up to that point, Street wanted to emulate the path his father took. He wasn’t going to be the quarterback, nor was it likely he would start for football coach Mack Brown. Huston had an opportunity to be a walk-on, but James cautioned against it.

If James’ words weren’t enough to convince Huston, Benson’s actions were. The future Doak Walker Award winner and fourth overall pick had 40 carries for 249 yards, including several runs over Street.

“I remember waking up that next morning and dad’s looking at me with a cup of coffee,” Street said. “He’s like ‘hey bud.’ My eyes have opened, and I don’t know how long he was standing there.”

“He must have been standing there waiting for me to wake up. He was like ‘hey bud, how do you feel?’ I don’t feel very good, dad. ‘You sure you want to do that every day at the next level? Because they’re all like that up there.’”

Benson became one of the best backs in Longhorn history, but the thought of taking consistent punishment was enough to convince Street to do something he hadn’t previously done and focus solely on baseball.

Now a one-sport athlete, Street walked into Garrido’s office during his first fall on campus. The three-time national champion coach asked Street what position he saw himself playing. Street mentioned shortstop, his high school position, but there was a problem. There were already several proven players ahead of him at the position.

“Augie Garrido goes ‘I think you have the mentality to be a closer. That’s what I think.’ I had never considered being a closer in my life,” Street said. “Never once thought of it. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, right?”

Garrido believed in Street’s breaking pitch, and that was all Street needed. He accepted the position because he simply wanted to be on the field.

“He was in the mix but that fall, he was not one of the standouts by far,” said Ryan Hubele, a catcher at Texas from 2000-02. “He’s not the biggest kid, and he didn’t throw extremely hard, but he was always a competitor. Getting through the fall, he always clicked and had a great work ethic. You could see that. I think that’s why a lot of the upperclassmen respected him from the get-go when his work ethic got on our radar.”

Street’s first few results didn’t offer the glimpse of the player he’d become a few months later.

In his first outing as a closer, Street saved a 7-6 win over Houston in the Astros College Classic at a frigid Minute Maid Park. Texas cruised to a 13-2 record in February of 2002 with only a couple of close games, meaning few opportunities for Street to earn a save.

When he did receive late game chances, he failed to take full advantage of them.

“After that, I struggled a little bit,” Street said. “I struggled against Baylor. I struggled against Texas Tech. I remember going to Missouri and didn’t pitch. I think I didn’t pitch for two straight weekends. I didn’t pitch at Stanford, and I didn’t pitch at Missouri. I honestly don’t really remember all the time in between that.”

Texas lost two of three versus Baylor, then two of three to Texas Tech in Lubbock with Street taking the loss in game one of the series. UT swept Missouri, moving to 5-4 in conference play in mid-March. The Longhorns then took all three games of a home series versus UT-Pan American before embarking on a trip to Stanford to face the No. 1 Cardinal.

At Stanford, Street made a major mechanical switch that changed the direction of his baseball career. In the first game of the series, Texas lost 7-6 to the Cardinal in extra innings after taking a 6-1 lead into the ninth. The Longhorns rebounded the next day with a 2-0 win, setting up a rubber game on Saturday.

“We’re in the third game and we’re about halfway through, and I’m sitting there eaten up with the fact that we didn’t win (Thursday) night,” Anderson said. “That’s a game that we need to win at the University of Texas. For us to have what we needed going down the stretch, we needed somebody that we could trust to finish games.”

From here, the stories somewhat diverge. Anderson recalled going down to the bullpen midgame with a catcher, Street, and an idea in mind. Street said it took place following Texas’ 7-6 loss in game three. The timing might be in question, but the substance of the discussion remains the same.

Street was an over-the-top pitcher. He had a trustworthy slider, but there was no tail on his fastball. Anderson told him it was ‘straight as a string.’

“(Anderson) goes ‘I want to lower your arm angle. I think it’ll create run. I think it’ll create movement. I think you’re athletic enough to pick it up,’” Street said.

“To say that I was furious would be an understatement, but I trusted Frank,” Street continued. “I really had a bond with Frank Anderson and I trusted him.”

Huston Street (courtesy of Texas Athletics)

“We go down there and start messing with it,” Anderson said. “We get back to town and I can’t remember whether he even got to throw on that Tuesday or not, but we started fiddling with it. He could do it about one out of every three or four the way we wanted him to.”

“I had no clue what I was doing most of my freshman year,” Street said. “None. No clue. I was making it up as I went along on the mound. Some days I’d throw from here. Some days up here. Some days my slider would break. I just was out there competing. The results just kept coming, and kept coming, and kept coming, and kept coming, and kept coming. I’m like God dang, you know?”

The Longhorns returned to Austin to begin their April schedule and took two of three from Kansas. After a midweek win over Rice, Texas went north of the Red River to face Oklahoma in Norman.

At that point, Street was beginning to get results on the mound.

“I think when he made it over the hump, we played a weekend series at OU I believe,” Anderson said. “I think he closed out two of those games at OU. From there, I think he closed out 14 straight save opportunities.”

“After a couple of up and down outings, dropping his arm slot down a little bit more, getting him a little bit more run on his fastball, a little more command of his slider, that just helped his consistency,” Hubele said. “His improvement got better every weekend we went on.”

Street admitted that Anderson’s decision that Saturday at Stanford was not one he would have made himself. Recall that Street is competitive, and sometimes that leads to stubbornness.

“That made me a big leaguer,” Street said of the switch. “That gave me the potential, because I wouldn’t have done that on my own. I’m so competitive that if you tell me to throw left handed, I expect to get them out. Why can’t I figure out a way to get them out? That’s one of those times where you need somebody who can see the game a little bit better than you.”

The Longhorns returned home from Stanford with a 25-8 record. By the time May ended, the Longhorns had captured the Big 12 regular season and tournament titles. By June 10, Texas was back in Omaha.

Championships aren’t won on the arm of a single pitcher, but for Texas it was nice to have the version of Huston Street that turned in one of the most dominant College World Series performances in history.

“Once we got a lead, we always felt pretty good,” Anderson said.

Texas won all four of its games in Omaha. Street saved all of them including two against Stanford and the championship game against South Carolina. As soon as the last out of Street’s championship-clinching outing was recorded, his teammates piled on him near the first base bag. His efforts earned him the honors of 2002 CWS’ most outstanding player.

“We knew we had the right guy on the mound at that point in the season,” Hubele said. “It wasn’t ‘I hope he can get these last six out of the game,’ it was ‘Huston’s going to get this done.’”

“We win the College World Series,” Street said. “I get the four saves, which was just happenstance because of the score. I got the job done, but that team was just so special.”

Street stayed at Texas for two more seasons, helping the Longhorns reach Omaha each year. He left Texas with an 18-3 record, 41 saves, and a 1.31 career ERA.

“There are people that say I was overused in college,” Street said. “One, I was begging to pitch every single time. Augie Garrido could tell you that. Two, Augie Garrido asked me every single time if I could pitch. A lot of times he told me I’m not pitching you under any circumstances, and I was furious.”

After a 13-year MLB career with the Athletics, Rockies, Padres, and Angels, Street returned to Texas as student assistant coach in August of 2019.

Before his first season on the bench with head coach David Pierce, Street was selected as the seventh Longhorns baseball player to have his jersey number retired.

“As a fan of college baseball, I truly admired him from afar but getting to know him better now that I’m at Texas, has been awesome,” Texas athletics director Chris Del Conte said in January. “He has such great Longhorn pride and passion and truly loves everything about The University of Texas. There’s no question he bleeds burnt orange and we’re so thrilled to be retiring his number.”

“There are some pretty special players that have come through there,” Anderson said. “To be a part of that small group, that’s pretty crazy.”

A specific date for the retirement of Street’s No. 25 was never set prior to the season. The coronavirus pandemic cancelled the college baseball season in mid-March before Street, who still wears his No. 25 when on the bench, was able to see his number join those of Keith Moreland, Burt Hooton, Roger Clemens, Greg Swindell, Brooks Kieschnick, and Scott Bryant above UFCU Disch-Falk Field.

For Street, he always wanted to be a Longhorn whether he represented the burnt orange on the athletic fields or not. Of all the honors he’s received throughout his successful baseball career, Texas retiring his jersey number is the one that stands above the rest.

“It’s the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me,” Street said through tears. “It really is. I don’t care much about awards. I don’t care much about trophies. I want to win championships. If I had to list one thing, being recognized at UT, it doesn’t get more special than that to me.”

Photos courtesy of Texas Athletics