From the time they can throw a ball or swing a bat, hundreds of thousands of youngsters dream of being that 40-home run hitter or 20-game winner. Not as many envision themselves growing up as lefthanded relief specialists.

“Probably zero,” said Randy Choate, the Cardinals’ new sidearming, lefthanded relief specialist.

“It’s something that you fall into when you can’t get guys out and you just become more specialized because the game allows for it. Ever since college, I’ve been able to get the lefties out.”

Choate, a 37-year-old former teammate of J.D. Drew at Florida State University, began as a starter in the New York Yankees’ system. But after posting a 5-1 mark with a 1.73 earned run average at short-season Oneonta in 1997, he had a colossally bad 2-13 mark for Class A Tampa and Class A Greensboro in 21 starts the next year.

“I gave it a go as a starter from a high (arm slot) angle and it just didn’t work out,” said Choate, who then dropped from his three-quarters motion to his current sidearming slot.

When told by the Yankees in 1999 that they wanted him to be a situational reliever, like Graeme Lloyd with the major league club, Choate said he was told to throw “whatever way is comfortable.

“I kind of went lower,” said Choate, “and by the middle of that 1999 season, I was down on the side. I just kind of worked it from there.”