February 4, 2011 10 Comments
In the early days of May in 1995, I was 11 years old and growing into my Yankees fandom. I hadn’t tasted glory yet, and had heard about World Series victories from my dad, but never experienced them. It was a Saturday, and my dad woke me up early that morning and said “If you finish your homework for the weekend, I’ll take you to the Yankees game today.” Being a baseball fanatic from a young age, I went into turbo-homework-mode and finished it all as fast as I could. We couldn’t always afford to go to games that year – especially since my dad worked most weekends – so I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity. I put on my cap and my #23 jersey, and we were on our way to Yankee Stadium.
It was a nice, sunny day at The House That Babe Built. The weather was perfect for some early afternoon baseball. We were to play the Milwaukee Brewers, and I was quickly saddened by the news that my hero, Don Mattingly, wasn’t in the starting lineup, having played the night before. The game seemed to go by very quickly, and our Yankees were shutout through 8 innings by the Milwaukee starter.
In the 9th inning, a “kid” by the name of Andrew Eugene Pettitte relieved Joe Ausanio, who had relieved our starter that day, Jimmy Key. Key and Ausanio had given up 3 runs in 8 innings, and Pettitte was brought in to close out the game. I hadn’t seen him pitch before, so I was excited at the promise of what could be. It wasn’t the most impressive of performances from Andy. He gave up 2 runs before the Brewers’ second baseman (my mind is drawing a blank on the name) grounded into a double play to end the top of the inning.
The Yankees managed to score two runs in the bottom of the 9th on a Jim Leyritz (my hero’s replacement for the game) home run. It was too little, too late, and we lost the game 5-2.
I don’t remember every game in such detail, because that is impossible. That day, however, I remember. Maybe because 1995 was a year in which my dad didn’t take me to as many games as he normally did, or maybe I just felt that it would be something I’d want to remember for the rest of my life. Either way, that day is cemented in my mind as one of my favorite games I’ve ever been to.
Remembering that day, and remembering my dad and uncle discussing Pettitte’s pitching on our way home, I now laugh when I think of my uncle saying “I don’t think this Pettitte kid has what it takes to make it in the bigs.”
To this day, I enjoy reminding my uncle of how wrong he was with his post-game assessment of Andy Pettitte. I also learned a valuable lesson as a result: Give a young pitcher a chance to grow into his own skin before you write him off as a bust.
Today, 16 years later, I look back at that day as the beginning of an amazing era, in which Andy Pettitte became the second-best left-handed pitcher in Yankees history. An era in which Pettitte not only dominated his field, but also dominated our hearts. An era in which Pettitte became “Big Game Andy”, the most winningest postseason pitcher of all time.
Today, 16 years after The Andy Era began, it came to an end. I can no longer hold back my tears as I write this post.
The news of Andy Pettitte’s retirement hit me hard. I’ve been trying to prepare myself for this day, but all of my preparation flew out the window when I read the words: “Yankees Andy Pettitte will announce his retirement tomorrow, at Yankee Stadium.”
I am not exaggerating when I say that I felt as though I had been hit by a bus. It’s a feeling I had only twice before in my Yankee fandom: The day Don Mattingly retired when I was 11 years old, and the first time I saw Don Mattingly wearing a Dodgers uniform when I was 24 years old. While I’ve certainly had my “downs” to go with the “ups” of my life as a Yankees fanatic, nothing has been as painful to me as those three moments.
I think of Andy Pettitte, and so much comes to mind. The numbers, the statistics, the clutch performances, the stop-losses, the postseasons, the World Series, the pick-offs and, of course, The Stare. But all of those things don’t even come close to describing what Andy Pettitte was, and will always be to diehard Yankees fans.
As fan(atic)s, we live and we die with every pitch of every game. From the beginning of April until (God willing) the end of October, we put so much effort and passion into following our Yankees. Many players don’t seem to appreciate that. Andy Pettitte was different.
As we held our breaths with every wind-up, Pettitte put his heart and soul into every pitch he threw. He did it for his team, for himself, for his respect of the game, and for his fans. Not once have we been let down by Andy Pettitte. Whether it’s on the field or off, every Yankees fan is proud to have him donning The Pinstripes.
Those who played alongside Pettitte admire him. Those who faced Pettitte respect him. Yankees fans are in love with him. True baseball fans tip their hats to him. Andy Pettitte is a once-in-a-lifetime pitcher. While many of you will certainly disagree with me, I can’t help but put him up with the rest of the Yankees legends.
Many have been quick to bring up the Hall Of Fame discussions. I cannot bring myself to do so, or even think about it. Not yet. I will eventually, but not now. Others have began to discuss whether or not the number ’46′ should be retired. Again, it’s too soon for this. Several fans have also been quick to bring up the one mistake Andy Pettitte made in his career, while others were quick to say “he left us for three years”. Now is not the time for any of this. Now is the time to celebrate an amazing career, and mourn its end.
As I mourn the end of his career, I will forever have one regret: I wasn’t able to see Andy Pettitte pitch live in his final season. I wasn’t able to give him the standing ovation he deserved that final time he walked off the field. Being 7,000 miles away, as well as going through difficult personal circumstances, I’ve been kept away from seeing my favorite starting pitcher pitching in his final season. Had I known it would be his last, I would have done the impossible to go to Yankee Stadium. I will regret not doing so for the rest of my life.
My fellow fans, the end of an era has begun. Our “Core Four” are no more, and we are down to three. It is almost impossible to imagine not seeing Andy Pettitte alongside Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada, although we have had a taste of it before. His years with the Astros seem like a lifetime ago, and I’ve almost blocked them from my memory entirely. Hopefully, we will make it to the World Series this year. I have faith in our team and our organization. If and when we get there, however, it will be a strange experience for me to not have Andy Pettitte on the mound. I have never seen a Yankees World Series without Pettitte and, as happy as I will be about making it to the Fall Classic, I will shed a tear for Andy’s absence.
Unfortunately, we won’t have much longer to let the reality of this sink in. Spring Training is less than two weeks away, and Andy Pettitte will not be reporting. The day many of us have dreaded for years has finally arrived. Andy Pettitte is no longer an active New York Yankee.
To Andrew Eugene Pettitte, I have this to say:
Thank you for giving me the most amazing memories of my life as a Yankees fan. Thank you for respecting us as fans, yourself as a pitcher, our team as a whole, and our organization for everything it stood for. Thank you for not only adopting our desire to win, but further instilling it in us. Thank you for being our anchor when times were crazy. Thank you for being the calm amidst the storms.
Thank you, Andy, for loving us as much as we love you. Thank you for the glory, for the championships, for the wins. Thank you for being the pitcher we could always depend on when it mattered the most. Thank you for being Big Game Andy.
Thank you for The Stare. The Stare that rattled your opponents, and calmed your fans. The Stare that has become your trademark, and the star of many female fans’ fantasies. Thank you for your class, and for your honesty. Thank you for being a wonderful man, and an amazing Yankee.
Throughout 16 years, you have been one of the most hardworking players in baseball. Now is your time to relax and enjoy the rest of your life. You have earned your retirement. I wish you as much happiness as you have brought to us. Enjoy the time with your family, we all know how important they are to you. You will forever have our love and our respect. Most important of all, you will always have an entire fanbase who will chant your name, and remember every single moment of your amazing career. Those memories will be passed on from generation to generation of Yankees fans. Your career may have ended, but it will last forever in our hearts.
Andy, we love you. Welcome to baseball immortality.