For a few minutes, it was like old times. Dan Petry had driven in from his old house with his old car-pool buddy, Walt Terrell, and they had parked in their old stomping grounds, Tiger Stadium. Now they were walking down the old concrete corridor.
And Petry stopped.
“I guess I’ll see you in a bit,” he said to Terrell, who nodded and kept walking. And Petry entered a room he had only seen once, years ago, when he snuck in to see what it looked like.
“It was weird getting dressed in there,” he would admit later, standing on the field, adorned in his gray California Angels uniform. “I guess I’m still used to the Tiger clubhouse. You know, all those years.”
“Aren’t you going to go in there and say hello?” he was asked.
“Naw,” he said, shuffling his feet, as if embarrassed. “You know . . . I just . . . well, I just want to be part of a team now. This team. I don’t think it’s fair to my new teammates if I’m seen running around in another clubhouse.”
Same old Petry. He didn’t used to play with the Angels: he just acted like one. People often exaggerate about men in professional sports, but you can dive off the cliffs of nice-guy superlatives and still not cross the line on Dan Petry.
How was it that a colleague of mine once described him? He’s the kind of guy who’d be mowing his lawn, and he’d reach the point where his lawn ended and yours began, and he’d say, “Aw, what the heck,” and mow some of yours as well. That’s a great description.
That’s Petry. As everyone around here knows, he spent his whole professional life in the Detroit organization — until last winter, after suffering a slip in confidence and pitching effectiveness. He was traded, at age 29, to California for Gary Pettis.
This was his first trip back.
A locker forever
He sat up on the edge of the wall. “Walt looks pretty good out there,” he said of Terrell, who was pitching an intra-squad game — the first time he has thrown here since injuring his ankle in February. Terrell and Petry were close friends for the last three years. You would always find them in the clubhouse, side by side, Petry reading the newspaper, Terrell with a beer and maybe a chicken wing. In fact, Terrell suffered his injury by slipping on ice while helping Petry move from his house.
(By the way, when Terrell fell, Petry was not there to help him because he was arguing with the limo driver who had dropped them off. Petry kept insisting the guy take money and the guy kept saying, no, it wasn’t necessary.)
“HEEEY, LOOK WHO’S HERE!” yelled Darrell Evans, grabbing Petry in a headlock from behind. “How you been? OK? Everything OK?”
“Yo, Peaches!” yelled catcher Mike Heath.
“PEACHES!” hollered Sparky Anderson. “GOOD TO SEE YOU.”
One at a time they came by, the old teammates, just to say hello, to chat. Pitcher Mike Henneman took his turn. It was Henneman who inherited Petry’s locker next to Terrell. It was Henneman who, on Opening Day, said he hoped to fill the shoes of the man who once filled the locker.
“You know,” someone would say to Henneman later on, “Petry’s a free agent next year. He could be back. You’d have to split up the space.”
“No way,” said Henneman, “he gets it right back. And I go back to the corner. No fighting. It’s his. Always will be. Whenever. Wherever.”
Listen up, all you spoiled-brat athletes with big-time egos: This is what you get when you treat people with simple kindness and dignity. A locker. Whenever. Wherever.
‘It makes it nice to come back’
Petry sighed as he watched his old team disappear into the dugout. No doubt he misses the camaraderie of the Tigers. He plans to spend the winter back in Michigan. Why not? California would be warmer, but this place feels
. . . comfortable.
“I’m glad I left here on good terms,” Petry said. “Nobody was mad at anybody. Nobody held any grudges. I called Bill Lajoie and Jim Campbell today, just to say hell. It makes it nice to come back.”
A teammate called him — a California teammate — and he jogged away. He forgot to take a book that was left for him. I stuffed it in my bag, and later popped into the visitors’ clubhouse to give it to him.
“Thanks,” he said, and I glanced at his locker. Normally, there is a strip of masking tape up top, with the player’s name in red ink. Above this locker, the tape read “PETRY 46” but in the right hand corner, in black ink, were added two smaller words: “TIGER DAN.” The clubhouse kid had done it.
“Yeah,” said Petry, smiling yet embarrassed at the same time. “How about that?”
How about that? Did you expect any less? Nothing stays the same, everything changes. And yet, as I type this column, I keep flashing back on that piece of tape, and I have to say the kid knew what he was doing. It looked kind of nice there: “TIGER DAN.” I guess because, to most of us, he always will be. CUTLINE