It was 1995. Coming off my freshman year at Penn State, I took a job in Wildwood, NJ for the summer. It was the second major act of independence in my life, and would open up a wonderful opportunity for me to take my Yankee fandom to new heights. I was on my own for the entire summer and could travel up the Garden State Parkway to Yankee Stadium anytime I pleased. These frequent journeys were made more possible by the roommates I had gotten close with during my freshman year. They were from Central Jersey, they were also big Yankee fans like me. When I couldn’t get to the games, I was able to watch them on tv as Wildwood’s cable service carried New York channels.
These new opportunities to see more of the Yankees coincided with another opportunity. The rise of Andy Pettitte as a prominent Major Leaguer. I had an immediate connection with the young Yankee starting pitcher. Maybe because it seemed like almost every time I got to the stadium, it was a day Pettitte was scheduled to pitch. Maybe it was because I was able to follow his budding career so closely on the tv. Maybe it was because I attributed his success with the return to power of my favorite baseball team. Whatever the reason, the next sixteen years would be a wonderful time for me as a Yankee fan. I owe a lot of that joy to Andy Pettitte.
The following summer I stayed at Penn State to take a few summer classes. While this meant I wouldn’t be able to travel to Yankee Stadium as much as I had the prior summer, I was still able to follow the Yankees very closely because, like Wildwood, State College carried many New York stations. I watched almost every inning of that magical 1996 season. It was one of my best summers as it marked another season where I could watch my favorite baseball team nightly. And in the middle of it all was Andy Pettitte.
As summer turned to Autumn, the Yankees began their amazing march to the World Series. And while there were many magical moments in that glorious October run. There is one moment that stands out to me above all the rest. The image of a young Andy Pettitte mowing down the braves in a masterful 1-0 performance that gave the Yankees a lead in the Series that they would not relinquish. That was the moment Andy Pettitte went from good starting pitcher to Yankee Legend, even if I didn’t know it at the time.
In the years that ensued, Pettitte and the Yankees brought endless joy as they won four World Series in five years. And while Pettitte was never given the full accolades that other members of the rotation received, he was a constant presence in the rotation. Furthermore, he became a looming presence to the opposition once the calendar turned to October. The intense gaze as his eyes peered into the catcher from just above his glove.
In 2004, Pettitte and the Yankees decided to part ways. As I’m sure it was for many Yankee fans, I had a hard time adjusting to seeing Pettitte in a uniform other than Yankee Pinstripes. I never excepted what my eyes were seeing, and hoped that one day he would return to take his rightful place, not just among the current Yankee Legends, but among the all time Yankee greats.
I got my wish in 2007 when Pettitte made his triumphant return to the Bronx. And while it was great to have him back, I would have to wait two more years for his return to culminate in what will now be the exclamation point of his career.
In the fall of 2009, Pettitte took the mound in game three of the ALDS as an already accomplished postseason pitcher. But this postseason, he would leave no doubt about who is the greatest postseason pitcher of all time. Statistically, and in the hearts and minds of all Yankee fans. He never buckled, defeating the Twins and sending the Yankees back to the ALCS for the first time since 2004. For me, this couldn’t have been scripted any better. A true Yankee, one who should have never been dismissed, returned to form and once again put his team on his back and carried them to where they belonged. But he wasn’t done. Pettitte went on to win the clinching games in both the ALCS against the Angels and the World Series against the Phillies. His career had come full circle. And as he stood on the podium, I began to think back on all of the years I had been watching him. How this incredible run might never have come to fruition without this unsung hero of the now famous “Core Four”.
In 2010, my wife planned a trip to New York for my Birthday. The trip was centered around a Yankees game. As the game neared, I was elated to see that it would be Pettitte who was scheduled to pitch when we arrived in The Bronx. But it was not meant to be because of an injury. I was disappointed, knowing that this might be Pettitte’s last year. I may have missed my last opportunity to see a player I associate so much of my young adult life with one last time.
But the Baseball Gods were kind to me. In September, my wife and I took a late season trip to Baltimore. The pitcher for that day… Andrew Eugene Pettitte. He was brilliant. And even though the Yankees didn’t win the game. It was a thrill to get to see Pettitte pitch in person once more.
As I read about the report that Pettitte will announce his retirement. I thought about that game. I have seen my share of fantastic Yankee games over the years. But, given the circumstances, that game will now hold a very special place among the best of them.
It may be the end of an era. But as we look back on this most recent dynasty, let us not lose sight of just how special Andy Pettitte is. And not just to this generation of Yankees. Pettitte’s place is firmly cemented in Yankees Lore. And for that I say thank you. Thank you Andy Pettitte. For everything.