TAMPA, Fla. – So, Andy, about A-Rod …
Andy Pettitte laughed.
Yes, a year ago he'd stood about where Alex Rodriguez stands today. It was absolutely humiliating. He had grieved for his cherry reputation, gone forever. He had resisted coming here, of all places, this pretty little ballpark and familiar old clubhouse that had always meant to him warmth and renewal.
But he'd put his head down and cried some and carried his regret straight through those concourses and through that heavy metal door and to the front of this locker, the one he leaned on late Friday morning, all those memories faded but still real enough to smart.
Going on noon on his first day back in pinstripes, at the end of a couple months that seemed touch-and-go but concluded with another year under contract and at least $5.5 million, he seemed to be feeling pretty good. He'd put some weight back on. He's 36, but his shoulder isn't aching the way it did over the last couple months of '08. He'd survived that, survived Mitchell & Co., survived the public and private fallout. Ol' Rog is on his own there now.
Yes, on a lovely spring day, new and old friends passing him on their way to the field and beating new leather gloves with their fists, Pettitte looked happy, looked fresh, looked ready.
So, about A-Rod …
"Hang on a sec," he protested. "You gonna ask me if it's good to be back, right? C'mon, somebody?"
"Man, I'm so happy to be back," he blurted. "It feels so good to see everybody. I'm excited. After the way last year finished up for me, with my shoulder and stuff. I worked real hard in the offseason and am just looking forward to this year."
He smiled and nodded.
"All right … "
What followed, oddly enough, was a nice, breezy discussion about Andy Pettitte. This, maybe, someday, can be A-Rod. And why not? There is a world A-Rod has left behind, the one that sustained his prior life – the Hall of Fame, the honest home-run record, the moral authority.
No more. Now it's just about sorting the baseball from the other stuff, and there will be plenty of other stuff. Now it's just getting healthy and staying healthy and playing ball. Now it's only about winning games for the Yankees for the next nine years, because there is nothing else to play for, and maybe that liberates a guy like Alex Rodriguez. The script, written decades ago, is useless.
But, and this would seem to be Pettitte's message, there is no clear head or path without the full truth. Going on a year ago, Pettitte sat under a tent at what was then Legends Field and said he was sorry for shooting that HGH. He sat for almost an hour and answered all the questions, and summed up his new world by saying, "Whatever circumstances or repercussions come with it, I'll take, and take like a man." The press conference ended with a hug from Derek Jeter.
Pettitte and A-Rod have texted back and forth since last Saturday, the day A-Rod was outed as a steroids user, which Pettitte called, "a shock." Pettitte told him he was praying for him. He's seen clips of A-Rod's television interview, and hated to watch his friend so vulnerable, yet presumably knows A-Rod has a ways to go to come clean.
They are friends, Pettitte said. He cares about A-Rod. And, you know, if anyone knows what it's like to live through what's coming for A-Rod, Pettitte perhaps comes the closest.
"For me, it was easy and it was the truth, you know?" Pettitte said. "I can't speak for anybody else. I had to get it off my conscience. I had to get it off my chest."
Like his own, A-Rod's baseball reputation is shot. Everybody moves on from there. The season starts, the games get played, nothing slows down for anyone.
"As far as me, he's my teammate and I love him," Pettitte said. "I'm going to back him and I'm going to pull for him. It has not affected at all the way I look at him. He made a mistake."
Every day for three years, apparently. But, OK.
There are 103 others, Pettitte was reminded. Some we'd know well, others not so much. So, 103 more potential scenes like this, or at least as many as there are active players. Pettitte seemed conflicted about their continued anonymity. The slow drip, if that's what this will be, would be excruciating, he granted. But, then, he's been there and had it all come apart on him and it was awful.
"If the names don't have to come out, I don't want to see the guys' names come out," he said. "I don't want to see anybody go through the pain and the grief that I know they'll have to go through."
By the way, he said, "If my name's on that list, something happened, something's wrong."
There's already been plenty of wrong.
"I think when Alex steps on the field it'll be a good place for him, I really do," he said. "I'm hoping that's how it works out for him."
If not, well, Pettitte said, "He's used to being beat up on."
He smiled. Yeah, he's seen this all before. And, yeah, it's really good to be back.