A different world away from New York

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- When you're the new guy, there is always That Moment. That Moment when it hits you. That Moment when you realize where you are -- and where you're not.

And so, inevitably, it hit Andy Pettitte late on a disorienting Sunday morning, out there on the back field of his new spring home, the Osceola County Sports Complex.

It wasn't that strange brick-red Astros jersey he was wearing that told him he wasn't a Yankee anymore. It wasn't the sound of the steers mooing at the rodeo -- yeah, the rodeo -- next door.

It wasn't even the thought that he knew virtually none of the 33 other pitchers and catchers working out all around him, except for that old guy with the name "Clemens" on his back.

No, it was that bunting-and-baserunning lecture that did it. The one where the coaches "were telling me how to dive back to first base so I won't blow out," Pettitte laughed later.

Bunting. Diving. Sliding. Running down the first-base line without getting called for interference. These were things that were actually dealt with Sunday on the first day of the first spring training of the rest of Andy Pettitte's baseball life.

These were things the pitchers for the New York Yankees didn't have to worry about a whole lot. Not this time of year. Not any time of year.

But it's a goofy new world Andy Pettitte finds himself living in this spring training. The world of the Houston Astros, a team that has won a mere 40 fewer postseason series than his former team. The world of the National League, where the pitchers have more to do than toss their 100 pitches a night.

His world now is one where the owner isn't named Steinbrenner, and the subway doesn't rumble past the outfield wall, and the franchise that now employs him has appeared in exactly as many postseason games as he has (30).

"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't strange," Pettitte said Sunday, to a roomful of media people who found it as hard to believe as he did that he was sitting there in exotic Kissimmee, Fla., with a star on his cap, next to his pal Roger Clemens.

"It's just strange, being accustomed for so many years to doing one thing continually, and now it's all different," Pettitte said. "Whether it's finding my way to the ballpark, or finding my way to my house last night and getting lost, or getting to meet the guys ... it's just different."

Different. Well, that's one word for it. Even for that other new guy, the six-time Cy Young award winner, this was about as bizarre as it got. He may have changed teams two other times in his career, but this was the first time Roger Clemens had ever showed up at spring training after retiring.

"I told Andy, when we were jogging out to the outfield, 'I feel like a coach, I'm such a senior citizen around here,'" Clemens said. "I can't believe I'm here, doing this again."

So what is he doing here? What are they doing here? What could be stranger than the sight of Pettitte and Clemens working out behind a rodeo in shirts that looked like they were just dipped in pizza sauce? They couldn't look more out of place if they'd just been photographed by the Mars Rover.

But if it's weird for them, it might be even weirder for this team they work for now.

In the olden days of the Houston Astros -- which is to say the entire history of the franchise BCP (Before Clemens and Pettitte) -- it can be reliably reported that people did not line up for a half-hour after practice to get Dave Mlicki's autograph.

But there folks were Sunday -- balls and photos and jerseys in hand -- queued up 200 deep just to get their brief moment of scribbling from their new friendly neighborhood living legend.

This was Roger-mania in full throttle, just one little slice of the bedlam that has surrounded the Astros franchise since the day in January when they signed Clemens, a month after signing Pettitte, and everything in their world exploded.

When someone asked Clemens if he'd been following the hysteria in Yankeeland since they signed that A-Rod guy, Clemens replied, pointedly: "It's been just as crazy for us back home (in Houston)." And that was a reminder, for people who think the only significant news this winter was made by the Yankees and Red Sox, that there's a buzz this spring in other places, too. Starting, maybe most of all, with this place.

"Yeah, life has changed in AstroLand," said GM Gerry Hunsicker. "We're not flying under the radar screen anymore. Sometimes in the past, we moaned and groaned about not getting the attention we thought we deserved. Well, I have a feeling that won't be a problem anymore."

They've sold 5,000 more season tickets this year than they had at this time last year. Heck, they sold 2,000 of them in one week after Clemens signed. They're talking about drawing 3 million people. But most amazing of all, they're talking about a phenomenon that can change the whole perception of their sport in their community.

"I think we have a special opportunity now to make this city into a baseball city," Hunsicker said. "But now we've got to do our part. Now we've gotta go play, and win. You don't see the banners in our park that you see when you go into New York or St. Louis or Los Angeles. We just haven't had the success over the years that translates into a great tradition. This year, we could really change all that."

But to do that, they need to go where no Astros team has ever gone before. To a plateau beyond the first round. Then onward, upward to the World Series, a stage where Pettitte has performed six times and Clemens, five -- and the Astros have performed no times.

So the buzz here isn't just about seeing Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte in a new uniforms. It's about something more.

It's about where Clemens and Pettitte have been, and where they're expected to take a different bunch of guys.

"We wouldn't be here," Clemens said Sunday, "if that wasn't important. ... We want to win, to get to the highest level. We're accustomed to that."

And they look like just the men to make everyone around them accustomed to it, too.

Pettitte is the first to admit he's a different pitcher today than he was the day Clemens walked into his clubhouse. Stronger. Tougher. Fitter. Even harder-throwing. Now it's Wade Miller's turn, and Roy Oswalt's turn, to enroll in Cy Young 101 and see where it takes them.

Miller is already talking about being ready to work out at 7 a.m. if that's what Clemens has in mind. When Oswalt was asked Sunday if he was up to that regimen, he chuckled: "I don't know. I might have to get in a little better shape before I try that."

But there is something about the force of Clemens' personality that makes you think he is capable of being a human tow truck, dragging everyone along wherever he wants them to go.

"A lot of guys talk the talk," Hunsicker said. "I've found very few who walk the walk. That's the difference between Clemens and a lot of other superstars. He backs it up, by working harder than anybody in the clubhouse."

Maybe the owner, Drayton McLane, just saw dollar signs when he lured Clemens and Pettitte to pitch in their hometown. But Hunsicker saw a different kind of sign.

When he looked at these two men, he didn't see all the seats they were going to fill. He saw the attitudes they were going to change.

"I think there will be that pressure now, that sense that `I can't let the club down,'" the GM said. "There's been a real comfort level here over the years. I've heard a lot of people say what a great clubhouse we've got, how relaxed it is, and how guys like to play here. But it all gets back to that edge I think you need to win. If you don't have the right kind of guys, you don't have that edge on the field that you need. Now, I don't think we'll have to worry about that."

There has never been anything like this, you understand. The last time two pitchers who won as many games as these two did last year (38) went from one team to another, it was 1922 -- when the Red Sox traded Sad Sam Jones (who had just won 23 games) and Bullet Joe Bush (16) to (who else?) the Yankees.

Now, though, it's the Yankees who are on the other end of this equation. They may have A-Rod. They may have Sheffield. They may have traded for Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez to replace Clemens and Pettitte. But gone are two men who have been centerpieces of everything the Yankees used to represent. And they'll get many chances over the next seven months to watch -- and contemplate -- what they've lost.

Whatever it was they saw in Pettitte that made them decide they'd rather have Vazquez, Pettitte is quietly burning to prove they made the wrong call.

However surprised they may have been that Clemens' retirement didn't last much longer than Britney's marriage, Clemens has never seemed happier to be able to try to write a whole new happy ending in his home town. And don't be shocked if he does.

"I wouldn't trade my time in New York for anything," Clemens said. "But now I'm here. I just hope we can come close to making some of the same memories here that we made in New York. And if we can just get a piece of that here, it will be worth getting off the couch."

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to send Jayson a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.