A borderline Hall of Famer for some (a definite for many Yankees followers), Pettitte was ready to go out as nobly as he had played. His hair filling thick with gray, his face getting longer, he seemed prepared to move on from his role of elder statesman for the Yankees to something equally distinguished, however far out of the public eye.
Pettitte's first stop was, as usual, with his family. He soaked in the time that had never been his during the nonstop grind of Major League Baseball. He spent time with God, reflecting on the faith that has carried him through the years. He spoke at a Tampa church, putting a voice to the character that had played out in his example to his teammates over many seasons.
Pettitte was known throughout his MLB career for his commitment to Christian beliefs and being open about his faith. When he retired and used his time to be even more vocal about God, it seemed like Pettitte may have found his new calling. The man who had spent years at the top of baseball excellence would now use his influence to tell others about God.
But the pulpit isn't the only place to show people Christ. And after 16 years of finding God in the joy of baseball, Pettitte knew a return to the game could mean just as much.
In Christianity, some are called to preach. Some are called to serve. Some are called to go as missionaries, or to stay as teachers.
Some are even called to play baseball.
All are part of what is called the Body of Christ, no matter who preaches or is the face of a ministry. The hand is just as important as the eye, the working layman as vital as the evangelist.
It's a concept Pettitte knows well. He plays a sport that couldn't have more disparate parts — all working together, needing to be in sync and supportive for the team to succeed. In baseball, each player is very much his own island, specializing where the team needs him, from the catcher to the left-handed middle-inning reliever. Each part has its role, as solitary or different as they may be, and each part is vital for the body to work.
Which part a person plays is secondary to that part doing its job. Pettitte has seen that both work in faith, where he fills the role of pitcher for the Yankees and of baseball player in life, sharing the joy he credits to his faith through the sport he loves.
It was that joy of the game — where Pettitte could not only do his job but also experience God in it — that helped pull him from retirement and back to a place where his faith is always quietly on display.
"When you talk about sports, this game, or whatever, obviously it's joyful, it's fun — the joy that I have just taking the mound because I love pitching and the competition of trying to get a hitter out, that's joyful for me," he said Sept. 12 as the Yankees visited Boston, just days before his return to major league pitching after missing about three months with an ankle injury. "It's not always fun … but the joy that I have just going out there on the mound is what keeps me coming back. It's what brought me back out of retirement."
That mindset is where Pettitte said he has found his joy, that extra something that makes baseball, and his life, go beyond the usual ups and downs. He lives his faith by enjoying his work — experiencing God through the game he loves, but not so attached to the game he loves that it keeps him from enjoying God when things don't go right.
"You go through your day, and things aren't always perfect," Pettitte said. "I'm not happy that I've been on the DL for 11 weeks with my ankle being broke, and you want to walk around here with your head in the sand and be miserable. But you still have the joy that Jesus Christ lives inside of you, and one day I'm going to spend eternity with him, and things are pretty good. Things aren't that bad. … You're not always happy, but there's always joy."
Pettitte's faith is also a boost in the types of situations in which most people would think someone would need to call on God, like pitching in New York in high-pressure situations. For as much as Pettitte enjoys his job, the rough times come, and that's when it's difficult. It's hardest to have joy when demands and concerns about performance and legacy arise — and to trust God for the same help to carry through.
"People ask me how I do what I do, and the first thing I say is that a huge factor for me is the peace I get from the Lord," Pettitte said. "I believe He gives me the ability to play this game, and just the comfort of just knowing — I feel like it takes the stress of this game out as far as how great I want to be or even the pressure of, oh, we're in a pennant race, or I have do this, or I have do that.
"God's in control of my life. All you can do is prepare and try as hard as I can, and the rest is in his hands, I really believe."
Pettitte has had a unique spot in the Yankees' clubhouse over the years. While some athletes find it best to share their faith by talking about God in the media or to their teammates, Pettitte has aimed instead to be a presence where other players can turn if they want to know more. While he's been involved in Bible studies and hasn't hidden his beliefs, he's also been respectful about how he shares, with most of his teammates having seen him enough to know where he's coming from.
"I think obviously everybody knows where I stand as far as with my faith," he said. "You don't try to push it on people. You don't try to force it on people. If guys want to talk to me about it, obviously, I love being able to share my faith with people. That's the most important thing to me in my life, is that — and always just trying to grow in my walk with the Lord."
When teammates have asked, he's been happy to share, just as he easily doles out pitching advice to the youngsters he has mentored (and has had quite a hand in improving) in his time with the team.
Other than that, he aims to make his life reflect the difference he feels it has, from an unreal peace to a quiet trust to a joy that gives him a deeper connection in a simple game.
"It's a tough lifestyle," he said of the grind, demands and habits of playing Major League Baseball. "I always just try to keep my focus on Christ and living for Him and try not to do anything to taint your testimony.
"You can walk around here and talk a big game, but if guys are watching it, and you're not living, you're not going to have a lot of impact. Just try to be there for guys, support them, not push anything down people's throats. Especially guys in this game — I think it pushes people away more than anything if you do that. Let people know that you're praying for them and you care about them, and I think you make a good impact on people that way."
Pettitte's method can be a precarious one, as most people approach Christianity with their own ideas of what it's about. He'll have no way to help them see it otherwise unless they ask.
On the outside, Christianity can be religion and rules, a typecast into which people disappear and clichés emerge. It is reflected in the world in disparate ways. If it's not confusing to those observing it, then it's at least repellant to those not interested.
But to those who say they know Christ, and who have seen his joy change the way they live each day and approach their work and life, it's something else entirely. Christians hope that the difference comes through — and that they'll be there the day a question or two comes about what's behind their life and work.
For Pettitte, being asked more about what he believes may be coming soon, with chances waiting on the other side of whenever his career finally ends.
"I can't really say that I ever thought I was 'called' to the ministry, but definitely I thought there were opportunities," he said. "Like when I retired, it was an opportunity for me to go around during the baseball season last year because I wasn't playing baseball, and to go to churches around the country and share my faith. In that sense, I did think about [spending more time talking in public about my faith]. I knew when I retired, I would share my faith more, because during the season, it's almost impossible because we play every day."
Pettitte has his tools for faith, as valuable as his spikes and glove: devotional books and emails he turns to every morning, his personal favorite being Rick Warren and his Purpose-Driven Life series.
For now, he plays baseball, and he fulfills his calling by living the joy he finds in the game. Another role — where his celebrity as a Yankees great puts people in seats to hear his words — may be waiting, but Pettitte isn't too focused on which part he'll play. He'll be ready when it's his turn.
Living is a lot like pitching. You put in the practice and do your prep, working with your teammates and studying ahead.
When it's time to pitch, you go out and pitch. When it's time to speak, you go out and speak. When it's time to live, you go out and live.
And if you're Andy Pettitte, you find God's joy in doing it, whatever it may be.
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