No matter what University of Texas sports heroes go on to
accomplish after college, they are forever hailed in Austin for
what they did as Longhorns. Nearly 25 years after his collegiate
gridiron heyday, Earl Campbell remains the Tyler Rose, forever
plowing over hapless Aggies and Sooners. Six Cy Youngs down the
road, Roger Clemens is neither Red Sox nor Blue Jay nor Yankee,
but Longhorn. This is not up for debate. It is gospel.
Huston Street, a gangly freshman of 18, has known this truth
since he was six. At the time, Huston thought attending a Texas
football game with his daddy, former Longhorns quarterback James
Street, would be just that: father and son spending a fun
Saturday afternoon together at Texas Memorial Stadium. "Dad
signed more autographs than the players did," Huston says with a
soft twang. "We stayed for three hours after the game was done,
my dad signing and signing and signing. It was incredible."
Outside the Longhorn State, James Street is as recognizable as
Ed Road or Steve Path. In Austin, however, he is royalty. That's
what happens if you lead the Texas football team to a national
championship, as James did during the 1969 season (capped by a
Cotton Bowl victory over Notre Dame). That's what happens if you
help pitch the Longhorns' baseball team into the College World
Series, as James did in 1968, '69 and '70. Thirty-two years
later James, who did not play professional sports and is now a
financial planner, remains that dashing hero in burnt orange and
white. For $150, you can buy an autographed, limited-edition
print of James running the football from an on-line gallery
operated out of Austin. The legions do not forget.
Perhaps that is why, minutes after his son had pitched 1 2/3
shutout innings to close out a 12-6 victory over South Carolina
in the College World Series final last Saturday, James had tears
and sweat and a proud smile on his face. By saving all four of
his team's wins at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Huston Lowell
Street became not only the tournament's Most Outstanding Player
but also--whether he turns out to be the next Roger Clemens or
not--a Longhorns legend, right there with his pop.
On a team known for its Pacific-deep starting rotation, the
righthanded Street played the largest role in Texas's first
baseball title in 19 years and coach Augie Garrido's fourth in
four decades. (Garrido, who became the first coach to win the
series with two schools, had won three at Cal State-Fullerton.)
In 6 1/3 innings of relief, Street allowed a total of two hits
and one run while striking out five--a performance that fed the
growing perception that he was a closer as invincible as Trevor
Hoffman or Mariano Rivera. As South Carolina coach Ray Tanner
said the night before his team faced Texas, "You know they have
Huston Street waiting. That's not comforting."
During the final innings of the title game a female fan held
aloft a sign that read HUSTON, WILL YOU MARRY ME? To the
Streets, this is hilarious, because four months ago the only
request the 6-foot, 179-pound Huston got was HUSTON, WILL YOU
PLEASE THROW ME ANOTHER MEATBALL? That came from opposing
hitters who, while struggling with Street's hard-cutting slider,
sat on his fastball, which reached the low 90s but was as
straight as a pencil. During February and March, pitching coach
Frank Anderson tinkered with Street's motion, dropping his
three-quarters delivery a nudge or two lower. "The
competitiveness was there, but his stuff wasn't moving enough,"
says Anderson. "There wasn't much deception."
Street had good stuff in his first three appearances in Omaha;
what he had on Saturday was good fortune. When he came on in the
eighth inning against the Gamecocks, Texas was beginning to
unravel. South Carolina had cut the Longhorns' six-run lead to
8-4 and had runners on first and second with one out. In a
10-pitch at bat shortstop Drew Meyer fought off Street long
enough to earn a walk. Centerfielder Justin Harris then hit a
grounder to third that should have been an inning-ending,
rally-killing double play. While pivoting to throw to first,
however, Texas second baseman Tim Moss dropped the ball,
allowing two runs to score.
Up stepped Yaron Peters, the Gamecocks' 6'2", 244-pound slugging
senior first baseman, the son of Israeli parents. In Hebrew,
Peters's first name translates as "happiness," which is what his
team-leading .379 batting average and 29 homers brought South
Carolina this season. To become melech (king) of South Carolina,
however, he would need to accomplish something only two batters
had done in 47 innings against Street this season: hit one out
of the park. On a 3-and-2 count, Peters--wearing number 32 in
honor of his idol, Sandy Koufax--took a monstrous swing through
a hanging curve, missing in Kingmanesque fashion. Later, Peters
admitted he was thinking home run ("I probably shouldn't have
done that," he said), while Street conceded that the ball easily
could have wound up in Tel Aviv ("a complete mistake pitch").
Regardless, as soon as the ball landed in his glove, Texas
catcher Ryan Hubele pumped his fist and jumped high in the air.
Carolina had let its last chance slip away.
Even though Peters and the Gamecocks were, for the most part, a
likable flock, it was hard to root against the Longhorns, who
exuded grace and class. Throughout the series Street displayed
the character of a man twice his age, routinely deflecting
praise toward his teammates. Indeed, the most heartwarming
moment of the tournament came in the postvictory press
conference on Saturday, when senior leftfielder Chris
Carmichael, whose three-run homer in the fifth was the big blow
for Texas, went out of his way to praise Street's maturity and
heart. Obviously moved, Street, seated next to Carmichael,
reached out and gently held his teammate's right hand. In the
rear of the room, Huston's mother, Janie, who's also a Texas
graduate, beamed. She and James had raised their boy right.
Later in the day, as Huston waited in a cramped hallway to be
interviewed for the official College World Series video, he
reflected on his father's status in the eyes of Texans. Ever
since his early teens Huston had known that he would follow his
dad to Texas. In fact, when other schools, including Baylor,
Columbia and Georgia Tech, had asked him to visit, Huston
declined. Why waste their time? "I've never thought of it as
pressure, having a dad who did so well," said Huston, the lid of
a white WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS hat covering his eyes. "He's my
best friend. My role model. My adviser. My hero. It'd be an
honor just to be mentioned in the same breath."
The newest Longhorns legend was smiling. That honor is his.