Commentary

Who said you can't go home again?

Phil Hughes grew up 10 minutes from the site of this year's All-Star Game

Updated: November 25, 2010, 1:32 PM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

TUSTIN, Calif. -- New York Yankees starting pitcher Phil Hughes grew up 10 minutes from Angel Stadium, but when he was a freshman in high school it was nearly impossible to imagine he would be in an All-Star Game there by the time he was 24.

Although he had been a very good player his whole life, he couldn't get off the Foothill High School freshman team bench. One day, he did, which --- for some unimaginable reason --- inspired a teammate's father to yell, "Who the heck is that? Get him out of there!"

Hughes' mom, Dori, stood up and said, "His name is Phil Hughes and you will one day see his name in lights!"

Hughes' name is in lights now, but he still keeps his off-the-field life as low-wattage as possible. While he could be at the fancy players' hotel, he is staying at his parents' house for his first All-Star Game.

It is where he still lives in the offseason. It is a comfortable place with his dog Max there and everyone calling him PJ for Phillip Joseph -- there is only one Phil in the house and that is his dad.

Judging by the new upstairs addition that PJ chipped in for -- complete with two seats from the old Yankee Stadium -- it doesn't appear PJ is moving out anytime soon. On Tuesday, he will make the short drive to Angel Stadium, which is where he nearly ended up during the 2004 draft.

Instead, Hughes -- who grew up a Boston Red Sox fan because of his father's Rhode Island roots -- was made to take a pinstriped oath by the Yankees before they chose him with the 23rd pick.

Hughes matured from a "standard little kid," as his high school friend Rob DeCanter put it, to a phenom by the time he was a senior. In the summer between his freshman and sophomore years, Hughes grew to a point where he was almost unrecognizable. He sprouted from being a freshman benchwarmer to a hot-shot starter, growing nearly half a foot while managing to maintain the work ethic his parents had instilled in him.

His father, Phil Sr., spent 16 years in the military and served in Vietnam. Listening to Phil Sr., one can tell why the Yankees never worry about Hughes finding trouble.

Phil Sr. had three major talks with PJ. When he turned seven, he told him you always have to be respectful to your teachers and do well. When he turned 12, he spoke about the birds and the bees, and that you are responsible for what you cause. And when he turned 16, he told him that, when you drive, you are responsible for the people in your car and the others around you -- and never drink and drive.

Phil Sr. also showed his son how to work. When Hughes was two years old, his parents started Mission Wrap & Mail, a local version of FedEx Kinko's. On the weekends, Hughes was in the shop, and by the time he was a teenager he could do everything in the store -- especially practice his pitching.

"The prerequisite for all people who worked at the store was they had to be able to catch a fastball," said Dori with a laugh as she sat in their home in Tustin on Monday.

His dad's background made him a realist. He taught his son to dream big, but to plan as well.

"My dad is very much a realist," Hughes said. "I was never locked to, 'I'm going to play in the big leagues and that's it.'"

But he grew, and his fastball started exploding to the point that by the time the 2004 draft unfolded, it looked as if the Los Angeles Angels were going to fulfill a promise to choose him. With the Hughes family huddled around a computer -- the draft wasn't televised at that time -- listening to muffled audio, the Angels' turn came up.

From what the Hughes family knew at the time, it looked as if the Angels were going to take him. Life was about to be perfect. Prior to the draft, Hughes told the Angels he would sign if they picked him.

On Monday afternoon, Hughes' dad, in the family living room, reenacted the bitter moment in a way only an All-Star dad can: "With the [12]th pick, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim select … Jered Weaver, Long Beach State."

"PJ went white," his mother said.

The Angels hadn't anticipated Weaver dropping, even though his agent was Scott Boras. The Angels jumped on the chance to take Weaver.

As for PJ, just 17 years old at the time, the agreement his parents made was that if Hughes was a first-round pick and would receive life-changing money -- a million bucks or more -- he would not go to Santa Clara University. Hughes liked Santa Clara, but he liked the idea of being a professional better.

When the 23rd pick arrived, the Yankees called. They knew that Hughes had grown up a Red Sox fan because of his father. They wanted to know if Hughes would sign with them, if he was fully committed to being a Yankee if he thought he could go after Boston in a big game. And would he sign for slot money? The answers were yes, yes and yes.

Hughes signed for $1.4 million and, now six years later, he is an All-Star as a Yankee and his dad is no longer a Red Sox fan.

As a kid, Hughes would go to Angel Stadium and sit in the cheap seats after finding discount two-for-one deals.

On Tuesday, Hughes is picking up nine tickets for his family, but the two most important ones are for Phil Sr. and Doris.

"I'll try to find my parents," Hughes said. "I know it will mean more to them now. Who knows if I'll go to another All-Star Game? For them to be able to go is special."

They were the ones who always believed in him -- and they haven't kicked him out yet.

Andrew Marchand covers baseball for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

More from ESPNNewYork.com »

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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