There is a destiny that makes us brothers;
None goes his way alone:
All that we send into the lives of others
Comes back into our own.
—EDWIN MARKHAM, A CREED
Like an elm tree naked to winter, a ballpark in February is a cold and lonely sight, especially at 9:15 in the morning when the only sound is the whisper of a mischievous wind. At Minute Maid Park in Houston, however, there is also the low, steady crunching of footfalls upon the red gravel warning track. Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte know each other and their workout regimen so well that they carry on almost wordlessly. They have mastered their choreography of abdominal crunches, shuttle runs, sprints, agility drills and laps. Whenever the silence of their synchronicity is broken, it is always by the voice of Clemens, the elder and the extrovert.
"Remember that one time we were doing this," says Clemens, who stops running and begins an agility drill, tossing a small water bottle to the left and right of Pettitte, who shuffles back and forth to catch it and return it, "and all we could find was a sharp rock to use? Make do with what you can."
The pair then embarks on more laps around the ballpark, two like figures dressed in black gear and, like Texas itself, broad across the back, thick through the thighs and tapered through the calves and ankles. Twin templates of a power pitcher's body.
Outside the park, on the first day that single-game tickets for the 2004 season go on sale, people have been lined up around the block since before dawn. Opening Day will sell out in 15 minutes. Some 54,000 tickets will be purchased—the biggest sales day in the team's 43-year history. The city is bonkers for the Astros not only because Pettitte, 31, and Clemens, 41, left the New York Yankees to sign with Houston as free agents (with the briefest of retirements for Clemens in between) but also because the two pitchers are home folk. They have repatriated.
As they run inside the canyon of empty seats, Clemens interrupts the quiet to say, "Lefty, look around. Has it sunk in yet?"
"No," Pettitte replies. "It still doesn't seem real."
What Clemens understands is that Pettitte—who is a quiet sort except when he sings in his church's choir; who married his high-school sweetheart, Laura; who spent nine seasons in New York but rarely ventured into Manhattan; who loves his privacy among the bobcats, deer, coyotes and javelinas on his 5,000-acre ranch in south Texas—is still overwhelmed by the idea of being home. He has an easy 25-minute commute from his house in suburban Deer Park to the ballpark. He can watch Joshua, 9, and Jared, 5, play youth sports, including football for the same peewee team Pettitte once played for, and take Lexy, 3, to preschool.
What Clemens doesn't know, because his running mate is too deferential to tell him, is that Pettitte is overwhelmed also by the simple fact that Clemens is right here by his side—that Pettitte is the reason why Clemens would risk losing his legacy as an adoptive Yankee, the flashbulb-popping poignancy of Game 4 of the 2003 World Series when he fittingly left baseball (or so we thought) with one last strikeout, and the quality time he had promised his family.
"Andy grew up idolizing Roger," says Alan Hendricks, who, along with his brother Randy, represents both players. "Now here is Roger coming out of retirement because of him. Andy still has a hard time processing that. He told me, 'I still can't believe this six-time Cy Young winner wants to hang out with me. Wow.' "