As the Angels assembled for their first team meeting of 2017 this week, their owner filtered through the Tempe Diablo Stadium clubhouse to offer handshakes and salutations across the room.
“I’m really glad you lost some weight,” Moreno told Street.
Then Moreno moved to greet Street’s competition for the closer role this season, Andrew Bailey and Cam Bedrosian, both seated nearby. This is an unusual situation. Street has 324 career saves. He last competed for any job eight years ago with Colorado, back when the Rockies held their spring training in Tucson.
“I said the same thing in camp then that I’m going to say now: I’m going to do my best to pull for these guys,” Street said. “But I want to be the closer, and I hope they choose me. I’m getting ready for the season, same as I always am. I’m not trying to pitch different to win a job.”
While he does not plan to pitch differently, he is preparing in a radically different way.
Street lost some weight because two years of winter inertia caught up to him and he underperformed while overweight last season. Street lost some weight because he could be a free agent at year’s end and his future earning potential depends on him winning this competition.
The spiral out of shape started Sept. 30, 2013, when Street’s father, idol, financial advisor and Texas football icon, James, died from a heart attack. He had to grieve, and he had to handle the family’s businesses.
“I literally couldn’t give a … about baseball at that point,” Street said. “My dad just died. And we were getting sued by nine different people. I was running 180 employees across businesses that make $40 million a year in revenue. Every day we weren’t making that revenue was costing my mom $110,000.”
Since high school, Street had worked out with Lance Hooton, an Austin sports performance coach. As Street’s stature as a steady closer and income increased, he installed an expansive, expensive gym within his Austin home, and they trained there. That November, when Hooton showed up at his house at 6 a.m. to conduct their scheduled workouts, Street turned him away.
Sometimes, he’d ignore the doorbell ringing altogether. Other times, he’d come to the door half-asleep and tell Hooton he couldn’t do it. Hooton still charged him at least six times before giving up altogether.
“I love Huston like a son,” Hooton said in a Thursday phone interview, “but there’s no free rides. It was a shame seeing this amazing facility he put into his house go unused.”
That winter, Street did little exercise and no throwing until mid-February. His weight ballooned up to 226 pounds, up 30 from his peak. But, somehow, he logged the best season of his career, converting 41 of 44 saves with a 1.37 earned-run average. No closer was better. He repeated the regimen that winter, with a bit of added lifting, and saved 40 more games in 2015, albeit with a 3.18 ERA.
“I was kind of just cruising on the work from five years earlier,” Street said.
Said Hooton: “It was a ticking time bomb, and he knew that. He was just playing with house money for a couple years.”
The aspect Street failed to consider was age — “the fallacy of my ways,” he said.
So, 2016 happened. Bothered by an April oblique strain he did not allow adequate time to recover and persistent knee pain that required surgery, he threw a career-low 22 1/3 innings. His fastball was slower than ever, and he registered a career-high 6.45 earned-run average, more than doubling his standard. The Angels told him before year’s end that he’d have to compete to be the 2017 closer.
And, they said, lose the paunch.
Street called Hooton and they went to work like old times. Most winter weekdays, they’d start at a track and do sprints, hurdles and medicine-ball throws. They squatted heavy weight and revisited Olympic weightlifting. At home, he cut most carbohydrates from his diet, save for Sunday kolaches with his children.
He reported losing about 15 pounds and lowering his body fat from 18% to 12%.
“I think he's in the shape that he needs to be,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said.
The Angels possess a $10-million option to retain Street for 2018. They can pay that, or pay $1 million to buy him out of it. At this point, a buyout is far more likely. That, of course, was motivation.
“Let’s make not any mistake about it, we’re talking about a business here, and he’s made a business out of being really good,” Hooton said. “That, in combination with, he’s in a contract year and had the most embarrassing season he’s ever had in any sport in his life.”
Street values his father’s advice about the comfort hard work creates. He believes he’ll succeed. But even if he doesn’t, he said, he knows he tried.
“When I started the season last year, the ball was coming out of my hand as clean as it’s ever come out of my hand. It just wasn’t going as fast,” Street said. “That can only be attributed to one thing: Lack of strength. Or, you’ve lost it.
“I gotta go prove this year that I haven’t lost it. And I love that.”
Teams guided by former Angels teammates Troy Percival and Darin Erstad will open their college seasons Friday at Tempe Diablo Stadium. A weekend series is scheduled. Percival is the coach of UC Riverside; Erstad is Nebraska’s coach.