There's something about the passion of playing baseball. Once you start, it gets in your blood and never leaves.Former Major Leaguers Lance Berkman and Andy Pettitte know that and are fueling that passion for the student-athletes of Second Baptist High School in Houston."I knew that coaching was something that I
There's something about the passion of playing baseball. Once you start, it gets in your blood and never leaves.
Former Major Leaguers Lance Berkman and Andy Pettitte know that and are fueling that passion for the student-athletes of Second Baptist High School in Houston.
"I knew that coaching was something that I might want to get into after I got done playing, and the year I retired some people approached me from the school and asked me if I'd be interested in coaching in high school," said second-year head coach Berkman, the 16th overall pick by the Houston Astros in the 1997 Draft and a key part of the "Killer B's."
Berkman finished his big league career with 1,905 career hits and a .293 batting average and helped the Astros to their first and only World Series appearance in 2005 before winning a ring with St. Louis in 2011.
"I have four daughters that go to the school so I thought it might be a good opportunity to stay around the game and be involved in where they're going to school," he said.
Pettitte, a 22nd-round pick in 1990, who has won a record 19 postseason games and was 256-153 with a 3.85 ERA between 1995 and 2013 with the New York Yankees and Astros, is in his fourth year as an assistant coach. He moved across town to join the staff with the unexpected blessing of his son, Jared.
"Second Baptist reached out to me about maybe doing some ministry work with the church," he recalled. "I told my son I had an opportunity to coach, thinking he'd say, 'No chance,' but he said, 'I'd love for you to coach me, Dad. Let's move.'
"So we moved to the west side of town. I've had so much fun doing this, and I've built up a great relationship with the kids on this team. To not only do baseball with these kids but also share my faith, it's been an absolute blessing."
It's the third time the Texas natives have been teammates -- first with the Astros from 2004-06, then with the Yankees in 2010 -- but the first as coaches.
"[Pettitte's] one of my best friends in the world. I just love being around him every day," said Berkman. "I don't know that we've ever had a cross word between us. He's the one that manages the pitching staff and sets all the bullpens. He's a huge part of the reason why we've been successful."
That success included a TAPPS 4A state championship last year and another strong season in 2017.
Berkman, Pettitte and Co. have been on quite a ride this past weekend, participating in the Perfect Game High School Showdown, at LakePoint Sporting Community, about 40 miles outside Atlanta. It offered a great learning opportunity for the kids.
"I think the toughest thing for kids to realize at this stage in their life is how many guys are out there," Berkman said. "You really have to do something special to advance to the next level."
Getting instruction from two Major Leaguers has been special for these kids.
"The knowledge [Pettitte] brings and all the experience is great for us," said right-hander Zach Heaton. "Like last year I started in the state championship game. I was able to go to him and ask what he did to calm nerves or just go through the game."
"He's an awesome person to be around and coach," agreed lefty Jackson Ryan, who pitched primarily on junior varsity but made the trip to Perfect Game.
Jackson is the grandson of Hall of Fame right-hander Nolan Ryan and the son of Reid Ryan, the Astros president, business operations, and a Texas Rangers Draft pick after pitching collegiately at TCU.
Jackson has cerebral palsy, which substantially weakens the right side of his body. That hasn't stopped him from playing a game he loves, though. If anything, it has strengthened his resolve.
Inspired by Jim Abbott, who pitched 10 years in the Majors despite a deformed right hand -- even throwing a no-hitter for the Yankees -- Jackson lives by the phrase, "It is what it is."
That means don't try to tell him he's different and don't dare try to pity him.
"I don't need any extra help or anything," he said. "I'm trying to do the best I can to try to do whatever I can do to help guys out and to just be a great teammate."
Check and check.
"I'll tell you what, if I could put his heart and desire and his mind into every player that I coached, I would do it," said Berkman. "He's so tremendous when it comes to his work ethic and the way he studies the game and the way he prepares to play because he knows he has to ... I always tell the kids, 'If you want to know what it means to work at something and to embrace a challenge, then look no further than your teammate over there.'"
Ryan is an inspiration to his teammates.
"I think he works harder than a ton of us, honestly," said Heaton. "He has a ton of passion. He just loves the game of baseball. You can really see it when he goes out on the mound and competes against other teams."
Ryan got to pitch in Second Baptist's opener, a 10-0 loss to the Brookwood (Snellville, Ga.) Broncos, and he retired both batters he faced.
The Fighting Eagles competed all weekend. After losing the opener to the Brookwood (Snellville, Ga.) Broncos, they knocked off the Saraland (Ala.) Spartans, 4-3, behind Heaton, who allowed three runs (one earned) and six hits over seven innings and then the East Paulding (Dallas, Ga.) Raiders, 9-2. The trip ended with a 10-3 loss to the Buford (Ga.) Wolves on Saturday.
While there may have been short-term disappointment over the loss, the overriding feeling as the team headed to the bus was positivity.
Perfect Game had been the win-win weekend Berkman had hoped for.
"I think it's great whenever you're playing against good competition at a beautiful facility," he said. "Give them a little taste of what it's like to maybe play in the Minor Leagues, where you're on a bus for 15 hours and you play a series, then you get back on the bus and drive another eight hours [and] play a series there."
Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com.