Joe Pettini changing uniforms
So, how was that photo op with President Obama and tour of the Oval Office?
You’ll have to ask Cardinals’ World Series hero David Freeze, says Joe Pettini who gracefully opted out of last Tuesday’s invite to the White House.
Instead, Pettini, the Brooke High grad and 35-year veteran of professional baseball, preferred to remain home and spend some quality off-season time with the family.
He’ll celebrate his 57th birthday this week with wife Barbara and hang around the valley another month before beginning 2012 spring training in a new big league uniform.
Changing venues is a rather frequent occurrence in his business, though Pettini admits leaving the St. Louis organization following a near 30-year stay, qualifies as an adjustment.
The Cardinals’ bench coach and close friend of future Hall of Fame skipper Tony LaRussa, Pettini worked alongside LaRussa the past 10 seasons, earning two World Series titles in the process.
When St. Louis completed one of MLB’s most unlikely comebacks, culminating with a game seven Fall Classic clincher over Texas, LaRussa opted to retire at age 67.
No such luck, however, for Pettini. “I’ve still got a ways to go, yet,” he laughed last week, enjoying a grilled cheese sandwich and chips over lunch in Wellsburg.
St. Louis named Mike Matheny as LaRussa’s successor, a move, for the record, Pettini thinks highly of. When a new bench coach was hired, the Cards offered Pettini another position within the organization.
In the meantime, Houston was introducing Jeff Luhnow as Astros’ new general manager. The 45-year old Luhnow, born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico, most recently worked as the Cardinals’ Vice President of Scouting and Player Development.
LaRussa, during a phone conversation, informed Luhnow that Pettini could be interested in an opening as bench coach for the Strohs.
“I flew down, interviewed with Jeff and met with (manager) Brad Mills,” reported Pettini. “I was eventually offered the job and feel good about going down there and getting settled in with a new organization. They’ve given me a very warm welcome.”
Naturally, Pettini realizes the Astros’ on-field fortunes have taken a turn for the worse in recent years. “They’re in a little bit of a rebuilding process but everyone (in the organization) is optimistic about improving and becoming a solid ball club,” he noted.
Signed as an undrafted free agent by the National League’s Montreal Expos in 1977 following graduation from Mercer University (Ga.) where he started 196 consecutive games as a college infielder, Pettini’s dream of wearing a big league uniform was realized in July, 1980 as a member of the San Francisco Giants.
Primarily a part-time player with the G-men spanning four seasons, Pettini compiled 344 major league at-bats, totaling 70 hits and 20 RBIs.
In 1984, Pettini signed on with the Cardinals’ organization, playing three seasons with the Redbirds’ AAA affiliate at Louisville.
As his playing days neared an end, Pettini was quizzed by a front office exec if he were interested remaining in baseball. “I thought to myself: ‘Definitely! Why not? Sure beats working for a living,'” he grinned.
Not only did he go on to become a prominent manager in the Redbirds’ organization, Pettini guided Louisville to a 1995 American Association championship. Overall, he managed over 1,000 minor league games.
St. Louis promoted him to the big league club in 1997, initially serving as minor league field coordinator before Pettini joined LaRussa in the Cards’ dugout to begin a 10-year tenure.
“I was fortunate to work with one of the greatest managers of all-time and earn two World Series’ rings,” Pettini indicated. “I had already visited the White House (with then President Bush), so I decided to pass on (last week’s) opportunity.”
LaRussa and former Cards’ slugger Albert Pujols were also D.C. no-shows at last week’s ceremony when Obama praised the Cardinals as “the greatest comeback team in the history of baseball.”
No two games are ever alike stressed Pettini, directly referring to game six of the 2011 World Series, when, two times, St. Louis miraculously fought off elimination with dramatic hits.
“I’ve never experienced anything like that night and likely won’t ever again,” Pettini admitted.
Like thousands of Redbird fans, Pettini expressed surprise over Pujols’ decision to depart the franchise and sign a long-term deal with the American League’s L.A. Angels.
“I’m sure many St. Louis fans felt offended by Albert’s decision. At the same time, if he ever returned to play (with the Cardinals), the fans would stand and cheer, in my opinion. They realize his value to the organization and what was accomplished while he was there.”
In turn, Pettini insists it’s foolish attempting to compare Pujols with any number of his major league peers.
“Albert’s definitely one of a kind and by far, the finest player I’ve ever seen. You appreciated him even more having an opportunity to watch him work every day at the ballpark and everything he’s been able to achieve on the field.”
SHOULD Pettini remain an Astro following the upcoming season, he’ll be switching leagues when Houston is reassigned in 2013 to the A.L.’s West Division…..
Pettini is one of a number of Ohio Valley prep baseball standouts who went on to enjoy collegiate success at Division I Mercer University, located in Macon, Ga.
The list includes Bellaire’s Chad Magistro; Wheeling Park’s Tom Pasco; St. Clairsville’s Scott Barnhouse; and Wintersville’s Skeeter Sommers……
Gibson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org