The first time I held a baseball is one of my earliest memories.
My dad took me outside into the driveway and stood several feet away from me. He rolled me the ball and watched closely as I deliberated which hand to throw it back with. When I chose my left and used all of my strength to hurl the ball only a few feet, his eyes lit up.
In college, he had been a knuckleball pitcher who used pinpoint accuracy and crafty delivery to get hitters out.
Baseball guys know that lefties have funky deliveries, and my dad loved that.
I would never have known what a good pitcher my dad was at Saint Mary’s High School if my family didn’t love baseball almost as much as he did.
When I was still very young, my grandma showed off a newspaper article she had kept from my dad’s high school days entitled “McMaster is the Master.”
The article was about a shutout he had thrown in a big game. Had it been up to my dad, I would never have seen the article. He is far too modest, and admittedly horribly embarrassed by the horrendous pun.
Baseball was all around me. My dad was a former pitcher, all my uncles played, and my Aunt might be crowned the biggest New York Yankee nut of all time had my mom’s mom not been born first.
My grandma to this day could give you the Yankee’s starting lineup off the top of her head, including not only names and numbers, but batting averages too. Meanwhile, my Aunt Laurie could tell you exactly how many days until pitchers and catchers start throwing in Florida for spring training. She reminded me at Christmas this year.
So, growing up I really didn’t have a choice—I was an aspiring left handed pitcher, who lived and died by the Yankees.
And at the time, there was only one left-handed starter for the Yankees, a then young man by the name of Andy Pettitte.
I had his jersey and my dad used to let me stay up just a little bit later to watch when Pettitte pitched.
Even though he was still young, he was already everything I wanted to be as an awestruck second-grader. He was a big, strong man, wearing a crisp, clean pinstriped jersey, and he threw the nastiest cutter in the majors.
He was a competitor and a sportsman, always setting the right example for me. It was an example I followed very closely for many years.
I held my glove right below my eye line when I pitched. I nodded or shook my head at the catcher, even when he wasn’t giving me signs. I put both hands behind my head in my windup. When I kicked before I threw, I lifted my leg just above my hip. I even learned Andy’s patented pick-off move.
In the fourth grade I think I set the Basking Ridge Little League record for most pick-off in a season. Of course, I picked a lot of guys off, but there was almost always someone on base.
Apart from keeping my ERA low, I did everything like Andy.
As I got older, baseball no longer was the most important thing in my life, but Andy Pettitte was still my favorite player.
So when the Mitchell Report mentioned Pettitte as one of the Major League Baseball players who had used Human Growth Hormone to enhance his play, I was crushed—my childhood hero had now become the bad guy.
While I knew that it shouldn’t make a difference to me, and I didn’t actually know Pettitte, I felt betrayed and depressed.
Pettitte does not have a clue who I am, but I felt like he let me down.
In the weeks after, Pettitte tried to explain the accusations against him, saying that he only used HGH twice to try to rehab from an injury. But even after hearing his explanation, I was still disappointed.
I am not the only person in this country who grew up idolizing a sports star; plenty of Americans do it.
What I realized just recently was that even though my idol represented everything I wanted to be, I didn’t know the first thing about him.
I knew his jersey number, his statistics, even his hometown, but I did not really know Andy Pettitte.
As a child, I only saw what the cameras showed me. As a child, I felt like I knew Andy personally, when in actuality, I really didn’t know anything at all.
As a young man, I can see much more, but I wish I didn’t.
I thought about that for a while and realized my hero was not a superhero—he was human.
He was human and made plenty of mistakes, just like me.
I was depressed knowing that the man who epitomized everything I wanted to be turned out to be as mortal and flawed as myself.
His example had an enormous impact on me as a child. By trying to follow in his footsteps, I learned lessons about sportsmanship, work ethic, competing, winning, and losing with grace.
I realize now that Pettitte was not the perfect person who I thought he was, but regardless of the mistakes he made, I still carry the lessons that I learned from him with me today.
Whatever happens in the future cannot change the past, and I learned valuable and influential values and lessons from Pettitte that I will never forget.
Maybe HGH hasn’t changed my view of Pettitte as much as I thought.
In the coming weeks, Congress will speak with Pettitte about the Mitchell report, and the truth will probably come out.
They may convict Pettitte’s character and honesty, they may confirm the accusations that at first had made me so upset.
But Andy Pettitte was my childhood hero, and even Congress can’t change that now.
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