This is the story of a dog and his boy. Steve Avery may have the whole world in his hands, gripped tightly across the seams, but he isn't master of his own household. A golden retriever named Cyrus shakes off all of his owner's signs. When a friend enters the Avery home with baseball cards to be autographed, the 21-year-old pitcher tells his three-month-old puppy, "Get him, Cy! Kill! Kill!" But Cyrus lies motionless in the middle of the den, a throw rug with halitosis.
This is a true story. Steve Avery pitched and won both ends of a district-final doubleheader in high school, powered by Steve Avery's three home runs. Steve Avery was also married this past November, six days after his Atlanta Braves lost Game 7 of the World Series. "It worked out," he says. "I got to miss all the planning. I didn't get stuck going to the shower and everything." The two anecdotes are not unrelated. The lesson: In love or in war, Steve Avery will not be sent to the shower.
This is the story of the boy who has everything. "What do you get for the boy who has everything?" asks Ken Avery, one of Steve's two older brothers. "For Christmas, I got him a squirt gun. Shoots water up to 50 feet." Connie Avery bought her youngest son a brush designed to clean lint from his navel. That's what you get for the boy who has everything.
This could be the touching story of the pitcher who couldn't be touched. The wedding that followed the World Series followed the lefthander's MVP performance in the National League playoffs, in which Avery twice beat the Pittsburgh Pirates by a score of 1-0 and never once allowed himself to be rattled by all that was around him. "Rattled?" asked Pirate centerfielder Andy Van Slyke. "He's young enough to carry a rattle, that's about it." Before that, Avery beat the Los Angeles Dodgers on successive weekends in late September, holding L.A. to one run in two games to raise a division flag for Atlanta. He finished last season, his second in the major leagues, with an 18-8 record and a 3.38 ERA. But this isn't really a baseball story.
It's the story of, it's the glory of, love. Love of home and of family, of youth and of games—and love of the girl in your seventh-grade algebra class. Steve and Heather Avery met at West Junior High in Taylor, Mich., where the couple still lives, five minutes from Detroit's Metropolitan Airport and two minutes from the homes they grew up in. Heather attends Eastern Michigan University and is a part-time waitress at Dimitri's in Allen Park. "It's hard getting to my tables," she says. "Everyone wants to talk about baseball. But I understand that. I think I've talked to all of our regular customers by now, anyway." She no more plans to give up the gig than the Averys plan to leave the neighborhood.
Three blocks and four telephone digits from his parents' house is the boy's small redbrick one-story home, separated from its neighbors by perhaps 12 feet. The walk is shoveled. The surname AVERY is inscribed on the brass door knocker. Heather has left for class with the truck, so her husband isn't going anywhere. Come inside. Leave your shoes on the HOTLANTA BRAVES doormat. Never mind that Cyrus just picked the pocket calendar from your jacket and ate January, February and the first two weeks of March. We'll begin by revisiting last October.
Steve Avery knows that life is short and the off-season is even shorter, so he vigilantly clings to both his youth and his couch. Seated in his wood-paneled den, he recounts the chaos that transpired during Game 6 of the World Series, which the Minnesota Twins won 4-3 in 11 innings. Of course, Avery's account of the evening is secondhand, as he had to pitch that night in the Metrodome, some 500 miles from all the action.
"My brothers had a party here that night," he says. "They were going to try to get through it without me knowing. They had five TVs in here. One in the garage, one in the kitchen, one downstairs, one in the bathroom...."
Ken, 28, and Mike, 26 (sister Jennifer, 20, is a junior at Ferris State University), say they invited 15 people to their little brother's house that evening. That is their story, and they're sticking to it. "But," concedes Ken, "it got bigger than anticipated. Word got out: 'Party at Avery's.' It was raining, so everyone had to come inside."
"There were, I don't know, 175 people here," says Steve.