ST. LOUIS — Kirk Rueter’s smile just won’t go away.
As a boy growing up across the Mississippi River rooting for the St. Louis Cardinals, he worshipped players like Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee.
And now, the San Francisco Giants pitcher has to try to beat the team he favored for so long — albeit with different faces — in the biggest start of his life. And in the ballpark where his baseball obsession began.
Rueter can barely keep up with the slew of ticket requests from his friends, a.k.a. “The Shed Boys,” and family. Even mere acquaintances are begging for a chance to see him play in his adopted hometown.
Rueter has been running around frantically in the Giants’ clubhouse asking all his teammates for any extra tickets for Games 1 and 2 of the NL championship series Wednesday and Thursday at Busch Stadium.
“I have to see how many friends I’ve got on the team,” he said.
He’ll be on the mound for the opener of the best-of-seven series Wednesday against St. Louis right-hander Matt Morris.
“It’s always good to be back,” said Rueter, who grew up about 45 miles to the east in Nashville, Ill., and now lives in nearby Hoyleton, Ill., a tiny town about 45 minutes from the stadium.
“Just to get to sleep in my own bed and go see my shed and get to see all of the family and friends that I don’t get to see for eight months out of the year of the baseball season.”
Ah yes, his shed.
That would be “Woody’s Shed,” the place Rueter hangs with the “Shed Boys.” They throw big parties there.
Giants manager Dusty Baker is convinced part of the reason Rueter pitches so well here is because of the Shed Boys.
“He’s had a very good record, successful record here, and part of it was because the Shed Boys come to watch him,” Baker said. “I don’t know if you guys heard of the Shed Boys, but that’s a wooden shed that looks like a mansion. It’s a place where all of the sports stuff is.
“All of the guys that go over to the shed, The Shed Boys, they come to watch him. And if he doesn’t pitch good, those Shed Boys give him stuff all winter.”
The 31-year-old Rueter, a 14-game winner the past two seasons, is making his third career postseason start. He has been darn near dominant against the Cardinals.
The left-hander has a 9-3 career record vs. St. Louis and an impressive 2.72 ERA. He’s been even better at Busch — 5-0 and 2.28.