Pettis returns to MMP after cancer treatment
HOUSTON -- The goosebumps started when Gary Pettis approached the clubhouse at Minute Maid Park on an otherwise quiet Tuesday afternoon. He couldn’t wait to walk through those doors and see the faces on the other side -- faces he had only seen on television for the past nine months.
He missed everything about the job -- the banter with the players, the pregame preparation, the excitement following a thrilling victory. And there have been so many of those the last few years. Pettis -- third-base coach, friend, cancer survivor -- returned to work Tuesday, and there wasn’t a single person who wasn’t glad to see him.
“I missed it. I did,” Pettis said. “I watched just about every game. Baseball has been my life. It’s in my blood, and it will always be here. I plan on doing this for a very long time.”
Pettis, 63, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma last September and has been away from the team since, though he’s been in constant communication with manager Dusty Baker and the players via text messaging and FaceTime. He won’t immediately return to the third-base coach’s box -- Omar Lopez will continue to fill that role for Houston -- but Pettis will be in the dugout during games and active on the field pregame.
“I feel good, and I actually feel better now that I’m at the ballpark,” Pettis said. “It’s so much fun being at the ballpark, in a place where I have so many good memories of games and celebrations. And I’m so happy, excited and hopefully, this will lead to another celebration at the end of the year.”
Astros owner Jim Crane came to the field during batting practice Tuesday to greet Pettis, who will have his family in the stands for his return.
Pettis could have started the season with the Astros but chose to continue his treatment, including a stem cell transplant, for the first three months of the season, because he was responding so well. He didn’t want to risk any setbacks. With his bloodwork looking good, doctors told him he could return to work.
“Research showed that it was the right thing to do,” Pettis said. “Although three months, at the time, seemed like a very long time to me, which I wasn’t willing to give up, but I’m glad I did it now. It’s over with, and I’m back here and excited and happy to be back here.”
The plan is for Pettis to return to coach third base -- where his familiar windmill arm motion has helped define one of the greatest offenses in franchise history -- but he looks forward to coaching from the dugout and helping the players face to face. Being back in uniform and around the guys is good enough for now.
“I would much rather be at my real home, which is third base, but I’m close enough right now,” he said. “That’s good enough for me. I’m back on the field where I rightfully belong. It’s a place I’ve been probably my last 50 -- did I say 50? -- my last 49 years … it’s been a long time, let’s put it that way. I’ve spent a long time on the field. I’m just really happy and excited to be back here.”
Pettis came to Houston after spending eight years with the Rangers as their third-base coach (’13-14) and first-base coach (’07-12). He also served on the Major League staffs of the Mets (’03-04) and White Sox (’01-02) and had a handful of Minor League coaching stops. A five-time Gold Glove winner, Pettis played 14 years in the big leagues with the Angels (‘82-87), Tigers (‘88-89), Rangers (‘90-91) and Padres (’92).