One Pack. No Turning Back.
Number of miles driven today: 60
Total miles driven on road trip: 2,429
Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts? Starbucks.
Number of days on trip won by Starbucks: 11
Cheapest gas I saw today: $2.55
Number of states visited overall: 4
Number of red states visited overall (as of 2012 presidential election): 2 (Texas, Arizona)
Number of blue states visited overall: 2 (California, New Mexico)
Number of wedding proposals on the Jumbotron during the Astros vs. Royals game tonight: 1
Number of wedding proposals on the Jumbotron that were a bad idea: 1
Gary Pettis and I have Laney College in common. I teach there, he went there. After that, we've got nothing.
Pettis, the third-base coach for the Houston Astros and the fourth player in the wax pack, was the whole reason for my visit to Houston, a sprawling archipelago of skylines that makes Phoenix look quaint.
But when I knocked on Pettis' door, no one answered.
OK, not literally (although knocking on someone's door is not out of the question on this road trip).
But I was excited to meet Pettis. He grew up in Oakland, where I now live, and all the articles written about him over the years portray him as reserved, quiet, and friendly. Before leaving on this trip, I drove up to Winters, a small town outside of Sacramento, to interview his college coach, Tom Pearse. Pearse, elderly and battling a rare health condition, rallied from his La-Z-Boy to rummage around his closet looking for old programs from Pettis' playing days. Although he didn't find them, he did say, "I don't know what Gary thinks about me, but I think an awful lot about him. I'm very proud of him." He then handed me his business card and asked me to hand-deliver it to Pettis when I see him in Houston. So I had my marching orders.
A couple hundred miles outside of Houston, I got an e-mail from Steve Grande, the Astros' super-friendly PR guy, saying this: "Gary declined the interview. He wants to keep a low profile."
The news pulled my excitement down a few octaves. After being spoiled by the generosity of Rance Mulliniks, the gruff wisdom of Steve Yeager, and the straight-shooting of Garry Templeton, I was encountering the first real disappointment of the trip. Gary Pettis was threatening to crush my dream. Low profile?!? Was his profile ever high?
I took a deep breath and reset. I needed to have a Plan B. Even if I couldn't get Pettis to sit down and chew the fat with me (and I never expected to have very much time with him, given he is still a coach in the Big Leagues), maybe I could at least get his attention and get him to sign his 1986 Topps card.
But what to do? Run on the field and try to high-five him in the coach's box during the game and get arrested? Could be good for the story, but probably not for my wallet. And I really don't feel like coming back to Houston for a court date.
I hatched a plan to buy a pass to a stadium tour that would include the chance to watch batting practice. Then I could make a screaming fool of myself to get his attention and his autograph and to deliver Coach Pearse's business card. A 79-year-old man in Winters was counting on me, after all.
What ended up happening I will detail in the book. What I can say is that I flirted with the idea of sneaking into the owner's suite and hiding out until game time and demanding an audience with Pettis. I didn't do that. And I didn't get to meet Pettis. But I did figure out a way to both get his autograph and to get the business card in his hands.
So what's the moral of this story? Failure is reality sometimes. But failure is not black or white. I got the autograph, but I did not get to meet Pettis, nor did I get a picture with him and the wax pack as I had done with the other players.
I was really disappointed. I wanted to ask him about the California Angels, about ending his career in Oakland, about the bizarre story I read in the LA Times about him getting in a fight with a pack of Native Americans in the desert in 1986. I did not get that chance.
But that's OK. The journey, the story of searching for Gary Pettis, is still an interesting one that should be told. And it will be.
For older blog entries, click here.
The meaning of Gary Pettis
Day 11: Houston, TX, 6.29.15