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Country and Western

Jake Peavy is a small-town 'Bama boy who can't see a lick and is prone to bad luck. But that hasn't stopped the San Diego righthander from becoming a dominant ace -- and a favorite of some of the game's most storied pitchers

Posted: Tuesday June 5, 2007 12:14PM; Updated: Tuesday June 5, 2007 12:14PM
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Padres pitcher Jake Peavy.
Padres pitcher Jake Peavy.
Simon Bruty/SI
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The best pitcher in the National League likes to roam San Diego's beachfront and the swank downtown Gaslamp Quarter in Wranglers, beat-up hunting boots, and camouflage T-shirts. Three years ago he dumped agent Scott Boras, whose hardballing style conflicted with his own easygoing nature, a move that might have cost him millions but bought him much peace of mind. Last year a San Diego car dealership gave him a spanking new Hummer, but he preferred the familiar comfort of his white Chevy pickup. "It just wasn't me," Jake Peavy says of the black H2.

The folks of Semmes, Ala., where the San Diego Padres ace grew up, aren't surprised to hear their town's most famous citizen still holds fast to his country-boy ethos, nor do they profess shock by how far he's come -- though their recollections are of a scrawny teenager with rail-thin arms and a pair of legs brittle as twigs. "Never was anything much to look at," says Andy Robbins, his middle and high school baseball coach. Had the kind of luck too that his favorite crooner, Hank Williams, could've turned into country platinum. Going back to his high school days, Peavy has been sidelined with a broken ankle he sustained falling into a ditch during a jog; a severely cut left hand suffered while taking out the trash; a sliced heel incurred when he stepped on an open suitcase; and a cracked rib, the result of his jumping up and down during a postgame celebration. "You name it," says his wife, Katie, "and it's happened to him."

As if those setbacks weren't enough, there is this too: He is, without corrective lenses, nearly blind. "Can't see a lick," confirms Houston Astros ace Roy Oswalt, one of Peavy's closest pals. Oswalt found this out two winters ago when he and Peavy, both avid hunters, were navigating through Pike County in western Illinois on their way to a weekend in the woods chasing white-tailed deer. Oswalt would steal glances at Peavy, who was hunched over the wheel and squinting into the darkness as his truck swerved unnervingly along the winding roads. "I made him pull over, and I drove," says Oswalt. "Then -- and I hadn't been driving more than 20 minutes -- I hit a deer."

By now the entire baseball world should be convinced: You're in good hands when the kid from Semmes is behind the wheel -- even if he does have 20/300 vision. Three years after becoming the youngest player to win an ERA title since Doc Gooden did it, at age 20, in 1985, Peavy, 26, has cemented his place as one of the game's most dominant hurlers. Though somewhat undersized for a power pitcher at 6'1", 182 pounds, he throws 97-mph heat and for most of April and May he was close to unhittable; through the first weekend of June he was sitting atop the NL in just about every statistical category for starters, including ERA (1.68), strikeouts (92) and walks and hits per inning (0.98). His seven wins was second only to Phillies lefthander Cole Hamels, who had eight.

That's enough to impress even the Padres' resident four-time Cy Young winner. "He's really good," says Greg Maddux. After a pause he adds, "One of the best in the game." After another pause he finally allows, "Could be the best."

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