Huston Street is long gone, some roles have changed, but one thing hasn’t: Bud Black’s Old MacDonald Bullpen continues to dominate.
A Quack, Quack here. A Quack, Quack there.
Sorry, but do you know how hard that is to resist?
Of all the cool stories funneling out of the world-class Padres pen this summer – and yes, with a best-in-the-game 2.35 ERA, it is world-class – the tale of right-hander Kevin Quackenbush is difficult to top.
Start with last Monday night against the Rockies, when he fanned the side in order in the eighth inning for the first time in his career, dispatching Justin Morneau, Nolan Arenado and Corey Dickerson like so many empty sacks of In-N-Out burgers. Along with Nick Vincent and Joaquin Benoit, it was part of a Padres’ Powerball moment in which they whiffed seven – count ’em – consecutive Rockies.
Move to a snapshot of the summer, where Quackenbush, a 25-year-old right-hander, is 2-2 with a 2.35 ERA over 41 games. With 37 strikeouts against only 13 walks and a .182 opponents’ batting average, Black long ago moved him from mop-up duty to high-leverage situations.
Finally, look at how many miles Quackenbush has logged this summer just to reach the tightrope: He started the season at Triple-A El Paso. Was summoned to the Padres. Sent out. Called back. Five times so far he’s been called up, including four times in one 10-day period in May.
Moves had to be made, I understand that part. And every time I came back up, I was more and more comfortable, like I deserved to be here.
Kevin Quackenbush on his back and forth between the majors and minors
"That was the crazy part," says Quackenbush, who, fortunately, smiles a lot.
Close your eyes for a sec, and it sounds like part of a script from a bad baseball comedy, doesn’t it? You can just imagine a gamey front-office executive blowing a duck whistle to move players back and forth between the bigs and the bushes.
Sorry, maybe that’s just my imagination.
"Moves had to be made," the affable Quackenbush says. "I understand that part. And every time I came back up, I was more and more comfortable, like I deserved to be here."
Best part was when he was recalled and optioned on the same day, May 15. By letter of baseball’s law, the Padres were allowed to add a 26th man for a doubleheader in Cincinnati that day. Whom better than Quackenbush, the man on the other end of more yo-yoing this summer than any Duncan product?
Two things about Quack: Not only did he begin to feel more comfortable with each successive arrival, more importantly, he began to pitch like it. And, nobody on the club this season is more of an expert on airports than this frequent flier.
Shuttling back and forth between the majors and Triple-A, Quackenbush toured airports in San Diego, Cincinnati, Washington, D.C., and, of course, El Paso.
"I always went back to El Paso," he says, as if quoting a line from a sad country song.
Best airport stop along the way?
"San Diego," he says. "The Stone Brewery and Restaurant is really good."
San Diego Padres’ Yasmani Grandal, left, and Kevin Quackenbush, right, celebrate the team’s 9-5 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in a baseball game, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
Book it. This guy knows.
"It’s been surreal," says Quackenbush, the Padres’ eighth-round pick from the University of South Florida in the 2011 draft and signed by scout Willie Bosque. "It’s been a dream come true."
So, too, for the Padres has been his expert mix of a fastball and slider, with a curve and splitter on call when he needs them. From his 2012 season at Class A Lake Elsinore (0.94 ERA in 52 appearances) to splitting time last summer between Double-A San Antonio (0.29 in 29 games) and Triple-A El Paso (2.91 in 28 games), the club has seen this day coming.
"Never overlook the scouting reports and game reports from your minor-league staff," Black says. "The last couple of years, this guy has been on our radar.
"And spring training validated what everyone saw."
So, too, did the grace with which Quackenbush handled his four demotions early in the season.
"He understood there are times when you’re that guy," Black says. "You sort of bite the bullet and take it and understand your place on a pitching staff.
"A lot of times, if you’re very good at self-evaluating and following the game, it’s easier because they understand it."
Quackenbush got it, and the dividends have been immensely rewarding. And if the guy is not careful, the next stop on this ride well could be cult hero.
The Padres recently started playing the "Quack! Quack! Quack!" clip from the Mighty Ducks film on the scoreboard when he enters, and fans are beginning to pick it up and dig it. Not only that, but after he fanned the side against the Rockies last Monday, several teammates rousingly greeted him with the chant when he stepped into the clubhouse kitchen for a postgame meal.
"It really was awesome," he says.
Of the three Mighty Ducks movies, "Two is the best," he says, and "Three is not that good."
Yes, he’s heard plenty of "Quack!" chants in the past. And how can a guy not love it?
But never have they sounded quite this good. Especially given what he’s become a part of: Not only does the Padres’ bullpen lead the majors in ERA, it’s .210 opponents’ batting average is the lowest in the majors and it’s 1.09 WHIP is third-lowest in the majors.
Quackenbush so far has stranded 21 of his 23 inherited runners, which ties for seventh-best ratio in the majors currently, and since May 27, 30 of his past 34 outings have been scoreless.
From the perches of Black and pitching coach Darren Balsley, it’s got to be pretty comforting: Here a Quack, there a Quack, everywhere a Quack, Quack.
And for you frequent fliers out there? You bet he’s got some advice.
"Sign up for air miles," he says, grinning. "I’ve got all the airlines covered."
Longtime national baseball columnist Scott Miller is a weekly contributor to FOXSportsSanDiego.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottMillerBball.