Angels closer Huston Street saw how the lives of kids were impacted by something as simple as a youth baseball program in his hometown of Austin, Texas. He came to realize the program was about so much more than baseball.Street watched as attitudes -- and lives -- were transformed when
Angels closer Huston Street saw how the lives of kids were impacted by something as simple as a youth baseball program in his hometown of Austin, Texas. He came to realize the program was about so much more than baseball.
Street watched as attitudes -- and lives -- were transformed when boys and girls had coaches and mentors willing to listen to them, offer encouragement and provide them with positive role models.
When Street explains his decision to make a $1 million commitment to RBI Austin -- a chapter of Major League Baseball's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities -- this is where he begins.
"It's amazing how much hope and strength it gives these kids to have someone they know cares about them," said Street, who made a $1 million commitment to RBI Austin, a chapter of Major League Baseball's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities. "It's being there for them when they have a tough day or a tough week. Baseball is a good conduit to teach them all sorts of lessons.
"I believe it's related to the game of life. Sometimes you can do everything right, and the ball takes a funny bounce. It's better to have someone there you can trust, and that's what RBI hopes to provide."
There's more to this story. Street has been blown away by the hundreds of people doing this good work. As he saw it, he was almost obligated to do what he could, which is one of the enduring lessons his late dad -- James Street, a beloved and legendary Longhorn quarterback in the 1960s and '70s -- left with him.
"I had that my entire life with my mom and dad telling me over and over, `You can do it,'" Street said. "When I did well, they'd tell me I did a good job. They'd reinforce that my effort was the right effort, and eventually you know what to do. I can't imagine what it would have been like if I hadn't had them with me every step of the way."
Yes, this is a baseball story. Only it's about the power of baseball to change lives and the power of people committed to making the world a better place.
This is what Huston Street and his wife, Lacey, did last week at RBI Austin's annual fundraising banquet when they announced their $1 million commitment -- $100,000 a year for 10 years -- to expand the program's facilities and reach. But $1 million isn't the only number they have in mind. The goal is much larger. For now, Street is committing what he knows he can deliver.
"I think it can be much more than that," Street said. "We've got a great story to tell. Listen, others sacrifice way more than me -- parents and coaches and others. They make RBI Austin function. They give it its soul. I'm talking hundreds of hours, hundreds of people.
"It's giving these kids people they can touch and talk to. It's amazing what happens when these kids have someone telling them, 'You can do it.' When you hear that over and over, you can do it. We've had so many success stories -- first-generation college graduates, things like that."
Austin RBI started six years ago, when a bank executive named Matt Price visited Austin's Reagan High School and found that the baseball team was in trouble.
Kids needed fields, equipment and especially coaching and mentoring. Matt Price poured himself into youth baseball and eventually resigned his bank job.
RBI Austin had 118 kids that first summer. But the program has grown steadily since then, and last summer, 853 boys and girls played on 59 teams.
"If you'd told me that six years ago, I just wouldn't have believed it," Price said. "I did what God called me to do. We walked into that summer thinking they just needed a place to play baseball. We walked out of that summer thinking we saw God move in a pretty meaningful way.
"We gave them rides to practice. We got to know their stories. Most of them were fatherless. We saw these mentorships spring up, and we saw kids grow. We saw ourselves change, too. We finished that summer and said, 'We can't go on with life as if that didn't happen.'"
Street became involved when two University of Texas teammates, Justin Simmons and Curtis Thigpen, encouraged him to meet the person who walked away from a lucrative bank job to help kids.
Street met Price for lunch at El Rancho, an iconic Austin Tex-Mex joint that held a special place in his heart.
"That's where my dad used to take us on Saturday after games," Street said.
James Street, who led the Longhorns to 30 straight victories and a national championship between 1968-70, died suddenly of a heart attack at 65 at his Austin home in 2013.
To Huston Street, his dad was more than a parent. He was a friend and a role model, and to honor his father, Huston started the Street 16 Foundation. This will be the vehicle for Street's RBI Austin fundraising.
"My dad believed that programs like this is how we change the future," Street said. "He fundamentally believed that. For a lot of lower-income kids, they need people like Matt Price to galvanize a movement. I can help through my means and resources and contacts. That's how it happened. I got inspired by Matt Price and his agenda."
Five years ago, Major League Baseball's groundskeepers -- led by Dan Bergstrom, then with the Astros -- got the ball rolling by building a beautiful baseball diamond at Reagan High School. Now the program has its 59 teams spread across 26 rented diamonds.
Street's vision is to construct a softball and baseball complex in East Austin and then expand the program throughout Central Texas and eventually beyond that.
"One of the things we've learned -- and everyone knows -- is there are a lot of challenges and obstacles for inner-city kids," Price said. "The good news is that we've seen God use this game for mentorship and leadership to help break that cycle. We think God is big enough to use something as simple as baseball to make a critical difference in communities."
Legendary Texas softball player Cat Osterman is also involved, and others have contributed time or money through the years, including Roger Clemens, former Texas coach Augie Garrido and current Astros manager A.J. Hinch, a longtime friend of Street.
"I pray to God it keeps going the way it's going," Street said. "When you've got kids proud of the field they're playing on, that's a metaphor for how they feel about themselves. It's making a difference in their mindset. As I tell my kids all the time, 'Your thoughts are very powerful things.' That's what RBI endeavors to do. From 'Maybe I can' to 'I think I can.'"
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice.