BOSTON – Andy Pettitte put a forefinger in one ear and held a phone to the other. His father was on the line from home, in Houston. Andy’s boy Jared was supposed to pitch Saturday. He’s 15 and a lefty like Andy. Over the low rumble of the clubhouse at Fenway Park – it was too hot and musty for the usual energy – Pettitte stuck his head in his locker, nodded, told his father to tell Jared to hang in there and pressed the button to hang up.
“Had a rough first,” Pettitte reported. “Gave up four.”
Pettitte had left the New York Yankees for a couple days in July to help his oldest boy, Josh, move from home to his new place at Baylor. Josh will be a freshman in the fall. He’s a pitcher, too, a right-hander the Yankees drafted (but did not sign) in the later rounds. At the All-Star break, Andy and his wife, Laura, returned to Baylor, took another look around, had dinner with Josh on Sunday night, and drove back to Houston on Monday morning, leaving Josh to his weight training and thrice-weekly academic tutor.
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Their youngest boy, Luke, is 8. Their girl, Lexy, is 12. They’ll be next, sooner than Andy might expect, to stand out in front of their grandpa and struggle through an inning, and then head off to college, maybe chase what Andy’s chased for twenty-some years, maybe not.
And Andy is here, in heart and mind. He pitched the night before and was dissatisfied again. Through oppressive heat and humidity, through a headache he couldn’t shake, and against the best offense in the league, Pettitte pitched into the seventh inning, gave up four runs, lost, and then had a golf cart ferry him to the team bus. He was exhausted. When he was younger, the day after a start was the busiest of his week. He’d run and lift and study and get his mind right for whoever and whatever was next. On Saturday, at 41, he rested. He recovered.
His eyes are still of the kid who won 21 games back in ’96 and helped start a brief dynasty. They sit beneath graying hair. And behind a fastball that isn’t what it was. They linger over results that hardly make sense sometimes, and stare out over that glove the way they always did, but maybe don’t see an at-bat unfold the way they used to. That’s what was bothering him Saturday morning. That and Jared’s first inning.
“You can just feel you’re not feeling the flow of the at-bat quite as early on,” he said. “You know, as far as being as sure of what I need to throw.
“I wish I was doing better. It’s weird, these first couple innings. Like I’m not selling it or something. I haven’t settled in early enough. My velo’s even up, Larry [Rothschild, the pitching coach] tells me. So I don’t know.”
He’s done the retirement thing once before, after 2010. And there’s no reason to believe he won’t make it permanent after 2013. So he watches Mariano Rivera say good-bye at every stop, and he gets the dispatches from home, and he wills Jared through a better second, and he wonders what Josh might be doing just now. There's probably only a couple more months of this, of pitching every five days, of checking in from New York, from Boston, from Baltimore, from wherever he is that his family isn’t.
Even now he’ll stand across from Josh, who is 18 and threw a no-hitter this season for Deer Park High, and think that was him, like, just yesterday. That was five championships ago, and 252 wins, a whole era of baseball. Even a retirement ago.
“Obviously, it’s neat,” Pettitte said, the phone still in his hand. “Whenever I’m able to be there, watch him pitch, to see all the little things he does, it is like me. It’s pretty cool.”
He worries about the big-league dreams, however.
“I know the percentages,” he said.
Josh, he said, gets it, too.
“I think he does,” Andy said, “but he is sold out to this. Since the time I can remember, he wanted to be a big-league ballplayer. They’re all like that, all my boys.”
A father can only encourage his boy to seek greatness, something beyond the usual. And then he braces himself, because he can’t bear to see his boy disappointed. So he encouraged Josh to go to Baylor. Andy’s life’s been great, the career almost as good, but it was hard to get here, hard to stay, hard to leave. Of course, by the fall, he’ll have done it all twice.
It'll probably be time to go home soon, for good this time. So he’ll take the ball, sort through his troublesome early innings, see if the Yankees can’t make up some ground. He still loves this. It’s the competition, the shot at a championship, and the fellas who take that shot with him. That’s what makes it important still, and meaningful.
Soon the phone would ring again with more news from a ball field in Houston. Andy stared at it, waiting. Was the second inning going long, too? Had his dad forgotten to call? He looked up.
“For me,” he said, “my life is so good. I’m so blessed. I have a wonderful wife who supports me. The kids are amazing. I’m as content as I can be. I mean, I don’t need this to be happy. I’d like one more championship before I’m done. But my significance doesn’t come from this game.”
That comes from elsewhere. If only the phone would ring again.
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