Yanks hope Pettitte can restore championship luster
TAMPA, Fla. -- Andy Pettitte was at home in Texas, packing all his clothes to be shipped to spring training.
"The closet in here is empty," he remembered thinking. "That's when it really hit me."
And then he arrived in Tampa on Tuesday night. The feeling was eerie.
"Me and my wife just looked at each other. It's like, 'an, it seems like we never left. It's all the same as it was,'" he said.
New York's starting rotation has been unsteady since Pettitte and Roger Clemens departed after the 2003 World Series, shifting like sand in the wind, and the Yankees haven't won any pennants since the pair bolted the Bronx to play for Houston.
Pettitte seemed to be right back at home in the Legends Field, his gear stored in its old stall, just to the left of the television in the clubhouse. His family is never far from his mind, and as he started to speak with reporters Wednesday, his cell phone rang with the special tone he assigned to wife Laura: "I'm So in Love with You."
"You know what I told her?" he said after saying he'd call back. "It was so funny, 'Like, man, before I get to the ballpark, I got to get rid of that ringtone.'"
Later, when another call came in, it rang with the theme from "Rocky."
"That's my fight song," he said.
A smile on his face, Pettitte is starting spring training on a happy note. His elbow feels fine and he's returning to the team he helped win four World Series titles and six AL pennants -- he even got a house in Westchester, just 1½ miles from his old one.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman remembered the conversation he had with Pettitte the day the two-time All-Star decided to sign with the Astros.
"You never know, you might come back this way again," Cashman said then.
With the Yankees telling Bernie Williams he doesn't fit on their roster, Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada are the last links to the glory days. Alex Rodriguez, Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi are nouveau riche for many Yankees fans, baseball nomads who put on the pinstripes in search of rings. The guys who won the titles are the most beloved.
"What we did was special. I don't know if it will ever be done again," Pettitte said in that soft, twangy voice. "Obviously, we hope we can."
He's 34 now, trying to add to titles won when his body was younger and more limber. He says he's completely recovered from the August 2004 surgery to repair a torn left flexor tendon and that pitching with elbow problems led to a rediscovery of his changeup.
Clemens is sure his friend will succeed.
"He's been having trouble with his 'bow for a long time, and it's because he puts a lot of stress on it," the Rocket recently said. "Yet he goes out there and he pitches great. The days that he comes in and tells me that he feels good, I worry about him, because then he just gets out there and throws. The other days, he's concentrating real hard and he's tremendous."
Pettitte laughed when he talked about Clemens, who appears likely to pitch this year but isn't sure whether it will be for the Astros, Yankees or Boston Red Sox.
Pettitte joked that in Houston, Clemens "wasn't around a whole, whole lot'' and said that "whenever we get together, he does a lot of talking, that's for sure."
"I know he's going to be down here and we'll play golf together. I know he's going to be over at their camp, at Astros' camp," Pettitte said. "He threw at Minute Maid for an hour or something the other day. If I threw for an hour right now, I wouldn't pitch the rest of the year."
Pettitte was 149-78 during his first nine seasons with the Yankees. More significantly, he was 13-8 in the postseason. On cold October nights, cap pulled low, he came up with big wins.
He's not sure how much longer he wants to pitch. That's why he agreed to a $16 million, one-year contract with a $16 million player option for 2008 and told the Yankees he wouldn't exercise the option if he was hurt. Pettitte didn't want to guarantee two years, because then he would have felt obligated to pitch in 2008.
"However my elbow feels, really doesn't matter," Pettitte said. "Whatever I got that day, I just go with it. That's the life that I have now.
"I feel good and I feel like I'm going to be strong and I'm going to hold up, or I wouldn't gave done this. I don't want to go through it. I don't want to go through the agony of feeling like I let everybody down if I'm not able to toe the rubber. To me it's just not worth it. I've made plenty enough money to live in Deer Park, Texas, for a long, long time."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press