Yanks hope Pettitte can restore championship luster

TAMPA, Fla. -- Andy Pettitte was at home in Texas, packing
all his clothes to be shipped to spring training.

"The closet in here is empty," he remembered thinking.
"That's when it really hit me."

And then he arrived in Tampa on Tuesday night. The feeling was

"Me and my wife just looked at each other. It's like, 'an, it
seems like we never left. It's all the same as it was,'" he said.

After three seasons with his hometown Houston Astros, Pettitte
is back with the New York Yankees, his hair a little shorter and
some hints of gray starting to show.

New York's starting rotation has been unsteady since Pettitte
and Roger Clemens departed after the 2003 World Series, shifting
like sand in the wind, and the Yankees haven't won any pennants
since the pair bolted the Bronx to play for Houston.

Pettitte seemed to be right back at home in the Legends Field,
his gear stored in its old stall, just to the left of the
television in the clubhouse. His family is never far from his mind,
and as he started to speak with reporters Wednesday, his cell phone
rang with the special tone he assigned to wife Laura: "I'm So in
Love with You."

"You know what I told her?" he said after saying he'd call
back. "It was so funny, 'Like, man, before I get to the ballpark,
I got to get rid of that ringtone.'"

Later, when another call came in, it rang with the theme from

"That's my fight song," he said.

A smile on his face, Pettitte is starting spring training on a
happy note. His elbow feels fine and he's returning to the team he
helped win four World Series titles and six AL pennants -- he even
got a house in Westchester, just 1½ miles from his old one.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman remembered the
conversation he had with Pettitte the day the two-time All-Star
decided to sign with the Astros.

"You never know, you might come back this way again," Cashman
said then.

With the Yankees telling Bernie Williams he doesn't fit on their
roster, Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada are
the last links to the glory days. Alex Rodriguez, Mike Mussina,
Jason Giambi are nouveau riche for many Yankees fans, baseball
nomads who put on the pinstripes in search of rings. The guys who
won the titles are the most beloved.

"What we did was special. I don't know if it will ever be done
again," Pettitte said in that soft, twangy voice. "Obviously, we
hope we can."

He's 34 now, trying to add to titles won when his body was
younger and more limber. He says he's completely recovered from the
August 2004 surgery to repair a torn left flexor tendon and that
pitching with elbow problems led to a rediscovery of his changeup.

Clemens is sure his friend will succeed.

"He's been having trouble with his 'bow for a long time, and
it's because he puts a lot of stress on it," the Rocket recently
said. "Yet he goes out there and he pitches great. The days that
he comes in and tells me that he feels good, I worry about him,
because then he just gets out there and throws. The other days,
he's concentrating real hard and he's tremendous."

Pettitte laughed when he talked about Clemens, who appears
likely to pitch this year but isn't sure whether it will be for the
Astros, Yankees or Boston Red Sox.

Pettitte joked that in Houston, Clemens "wasn't around a whole,
whole lot'' and said that "whenever we get together, he does a lot
of talking, that's for sure."

"I know he's going to be down here and we'll play golf
together. I know he's going to be over at their camp, at Astros'
camp," Pettitte said. "He threw at Minute Maid for an hour or
something the other day. If I threw for an hour right now, I
wouldn't pitch the rest of the year."

Pettitte was 149-78 during his first nine seasons with the
Yankees. More significantly, he was 13-8 in the postseason. On cold
October nights, cap pulled low, he came up with big wins.

He's not sure how much longer he wants to pitch. That's why he
agreed to a $16 million, one-year contract with a $16 million
player option for 2008 and told the Yankees he wouldn't exercise
the option if he was hurt. Pettitte didn't want to guarantee two
years, because then he would have felt obligated to pitch in 2008.

"However my elbow feels, really doesn't matter," Pettitte
said. "Whatever I got that day, I just go with it. That's the life
that I have now.

"I feel good and I feel like I'm going to be strong and I'm
going to hold up, or I wouldn't gave done this. I don't want to go
through it. I don't want to go through the agony of feeling like I
let everybody down if I'm not able to toe the rubber. To me it's
just not worth it. I've made plenty enough money to live in Deer
Park, Texas, for a long, long time."