O’s Matusz: Andy Pettitte was so down to earth

As most of you know by now, I covered the New York Yankees for seven years before coming to Baltimore. So I know first-hand how special a person Andy Pettitte is, on and off the field.

Personally, I owe Pettitte a huge thank you for allowing me to experience a World Series championship in 2009. Pettitte, who arguably had his best postseason career as a Yankee, was the winning pitcher in all three clinching postseason games that led the Yankees to their 27th championship: the division series against the Twins, the championship series against the Angels and the World Series against the Phillies. I had a gut feeling it was going to be my last year in New York and for selfish reasons, I was pulling for the Yankees (although I’m not a fan) so I could end my time with the team on a good note and experience the excitement of the team I was covering winning it all.

Nine months later, I realized I wasn’t the only person who owed Pettitte a thank you. One afternoon, while waiting to interview CC Sabathia in the Yankees dugout at Camden Yards, I noticed Orioles rookie Brian Matusz and Pettitte greet each other at the top of the dugout. Matusz had walked over to the visiting side to seek Pettitte out and the opponents shared a walk to the outfield. I recall watching the veteran and the rookie walk away and seeing the two lefties, a veteran in No. 46 and a rookie No. 17 share something you rarely see in sports. It didn’t matter if for just nine innings that day - and 162 games that season - they were enemies on the field. At that moment, they were simply a student and a teacher. I later asked Matusz what that conversation entailed and he briefly told me, with a smile of course, that Pettitte liked his changeup.

Watching Pettitte’s retirement press conference today on the MLB Network, I remembered Matusz’s moment with Pettitte and the Orioles left-hander later recalled the meeting.

“Talking to Andy Pettitte was the greatest experiences of my short career so far,” Matusz said from his offseason home in California. “Just being able to talk to one of the greatest left handed pitchers of all time was really great. He was so down to earth.

“He never really helped me with a certain pitch, but that day, he talked to me about my changeup and he said he loved it as a pitch. He joked that he needed to work on his and learn how to use his the way I use mine. He just always went out of his way to shake my hand. And for me, that meant a lot because I’ve looked up to him since I was a kid. So when I talked to him I just tried to lean as much as I possibly could.”

Also last season, I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing another impressive left-hander, Toronto Blue Jay Brett Cecil, a Dunkirk, Md., native and a standout at the University of Maryland, where he currently owns the all-time save record with 35. Although Cecil was born and raised in Maryland, his grandfather raised him a Yankees fan and brought him to Camden Yards as kid to watch Pettitte pitch.

At first, it surprised me hear Cecil say the Yankees and Pettitte were his childhood favorites given the fact he’s from Maryland, but if anyone had the chance to know Pettitte as a person, I think you’d share the same feelings. It doesn’t happen very often, but if anyone in Baltimore can find a place in their heart for a Yankee, Pettitte would certainly be the one.

Hopefully, Matusz learned a thing for two from Pettitte that can help bring that same championship experience to Charm City.

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