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PEORIA, Ariz. -- Born east of San Diego in La Mesa and raised in the area, Royce Ring grew up a "hardcore Padres fan," as he puts it, wanting to hit like Tony Gwynn and pitch like Bruce Hurst.
He might never swing the bat like the Hall of Famer, but Ring has a shot at becoming a bullpen version of Hurst.
After hit-and-miss trials with the New York Mets the past two seasons, Ring returned home, along with fellow San Diegan Heath Bell, in a winter deal sending Ben Johnson and Jon Adkins to Queens.
Royce is burning to Ring true for the team of team of his youth -- and he's upbeat about his prospects of being one of the relievers getting the ball to Trevor Hoffman in 2007 and setting off "Hells Bells" for the game's all-time saves machine.
"In New York, always on a veteran team with very few openings, it was tough to be successful," Ring said. "With that organization, there were always three or four guys with more experience ahead of me, and there was no room for error.
"Coming here, I'm a little more comfortable. I'm excited. This is the first time I go into a big-league camp knowing I have a real chance to make the team."
Ring appears to have the inside track on the southpaw-specialist role vacated by Alan Embree, who signed as a free agent with Oakland.
"I like his arm," Padres manager Bud Black said. "He has dropped his arm angle significantly. I remember seeing him at San Diego State, where he was right over the top. All the scouting comparisons were to Randy Myers -- same body type, same stuff, same arm slot.
"He has reinvented himself -- low three-quarters [delivery], borderline sidearm. It's a completely different arm slot. I talked to him the other day, and he said that's his slot now. He spins the ball very well, with great movement. He keeps the ball down; there is deception to it."
Listed at 6-foot and 220 pounds, Ring, 26, was an all-purpose star at Monte Vista High in Spring Valley, southeast of San Diego. When he wasn't throwing strikes, he was hitting them as the cleanup man and right fielder.
Ring hasn't had a Major League at-bat, but with pitching staffs having expanded to as many as 12 arms in the National League, a manager never can have enough bats available in a pinch.
Drafted out of high school by Cleveland in the 41st round, Ring elected to go to San Diego State instead and excelled, finishing second in the nation in saves with 17 as a junior, going 5-1 with a 1.85 ERA to earn a second-team All-America spot.
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Taken with the 18th overall pick in the first round by the Chicago White Sox in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, Ring signed and was shipped a year later to the Mets with two other prospects in exchange for Roberto Alomar.
Appearing in a total of 26 games for the Mets the past two seasons, Ring was 0-2 with a 3.47 ERA. But last year, he was brilliant in a small sample -- seven hits and three walks in 12 2/3 innings, holding hitters to a .156 average with a 2.13 ERA.
He can get his fastball into the low 90s with the new arm angle he developed two years ago, complementing it with a curve, slider and changeup.
Like every other young pitcher in camp, Ring is eager to spend quality time with the masters on the pitching staff -- Trevor Hoffman, Greg Maddux and David Wells.
Each of the veterans, Ring feels, can impart wisdom that will be deposited in his memory bank for future withdrawals in the heat of the moment.
"Hopefully, as camp continues and we get a little more into it, I can talk to those guys," Ring said. "The more you learn, the more you can excel and reach your maximum potential. The knowledge those three guys have, to be able to pick that up early, I can roll with it and have a great career.
"Everybody wants to pitch in the big leagues 10-plus years, but not a lot of guys can do it. I'll do everything I can to create longevity."
One thing he'll hear from all three Padres elders on the staff is sure to ring familiar: throw strikes.
"You can't walk people," Ring said, having learned from experience in his debut season with the Mets, when he issued 10 free passes in 10 2/3 innings. "You're going to pay when you give guys free tickets to the basepaths.
"It's always been big for me, throwing strikes, all the way back to Little League. The more strikes you throw, the longer you can stay in the game."
Ring said he doesn't care what his role is, as long as he makes the 25-man roster. If it means getting one left-handed hitter in a key situation, he's game.
"If that's my job for the next 10 years," he said, grinning, "it's fine with me."