SAN DIEGO (AP) Matt Bush finally made it to Petco Park as a big leaguer.
He said he always envisioned playing here, although his journey to Tony Gwynn Drive has been unlike anything people imagined for the former hotshot shortstop from Mission Bay High - just 10 miles from the downtown home of the San Diego Padres.
Now 31, Bush recently became the closer for the Texas Rangers. He made his big league debut last year after resurrecting a pro career derailed by alcoholism and a 51-month prison sentence for a drunken driving accident in Florida that seriously injured a man.
He was 18 when the hometown Padres made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft and gave him a $3.15 million signing bonus. The Padres passed on players such as Justin Verlander and Stephen Drew, who they thought would be too tough to sign.
''It's just really nice to be able to come back,'' Bush said Monday before the start of a two-game series with the Padres. ''I know there's all the very negative stuff that's talked about me and what not. It's nice to be able to come back here, to give the fans, the crowd, whatever it is, that, `OK, we've waited this long,' or whatever it is. It doesn't matter. But I'm here. I'm very San Diego. I love this city and I get to play in my hometown. It's a dream come true, no matter what the story, no matter what I've been through.''
Bush said he wasn't concerned about how fans would react if he pitches in the short series.
''I'm trying to soak it in, enjoy it, but at the same time I'm looking forward to getting out there and pitching my absolute best and really giving San Diego my very best,'' he said.
Bush had several brushes with the law in the years after being drafted. He was converted to pitcher, had Tommy John surgery and bounced through the Toronto and Tampa Bay organizations before Texas signed him as a free agent on Dec. 8, 2015.
He said he's been sober since the accident in Florida in March 2012.
''I finally allowed myself to be in a place I feel like I was meant to be by staying sober and continuing to stay on course,'' Bush said. ''I feel comfortable that this is where I was supposed to be all along. Now that I've taken the right steps and done the things I need to do to continue to stay sober, I'm here and just trying to be a great teammate and help my team win.''
Bush thinks baseball helped save him.
''I kept my dream alive. I knew that I wasn't going to give up the pursuit of my dream and my talent and I stuck with it,'' he said.
Bush said he appreciates the second chance ''and I just don't want to spoil it. That's the main thing is just continuing to stay humble and continuing to be very grateful for everything I have in my life and not take advantage, maybe, of my situation of being a major league player and letting it get to my head. Just stay humble and remember everything I've been through, all the people I've hurt, the teams, whatever it is, and keep going.''
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