Huskies receiver Dante Pettis, whose father is former major-leaguer Gary Pettis, knows all about big-stakes games. Dante will play in one Saturday night when Washington hosts Oregon.
Washington’s sophomore wide receiver, Dante Pettis, was understandably nervous Wednesday morning about the big game coming up.
No, not the Huskies’ showdown with Oregon on Saturday, though that will soon become his total focus. Of more immediate concern was the Houston Astros’ American League Division Series elimination game with the Kansas City Royals, which would prove to be a season-ending defeat for the Astros.
As the son of Astros third-base coach Gary Pettis, an outstanding major-league center fielder for 11 seasons, Pettis is heavily invested in the Astros’ fortunes. But he couldn’t actually watch the game because of a team meeting, followed by a lab in one of his classes.
“I’m going to have to be checking on my phone,” he said, adding with a laugh: “I know, it kills me.”
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Pettis is a football player minoring in baseball, a sport he gave up as a sophomore in high school because his commitments to football and basketball were taking up too much of his time. But his intense interest has continued unabated.
“I love baseball so much,” he said. “It’s in my blood.”
Indeed, Gary Pettis was a five-time Gold Glove winner with the Angels, Tigers and Rangers. Dante’s uncle, Stacey, played in the minor leagues for seven years and is now a Mariners scout.
Dante Pettis, despite his obvious football skills — he has caught 26 passes for 362 yards and returned two punts for touchdowns in his Huskies career — is convinced he has inherent baseball skills as well.
“I still tell my dad to draft me,” he said with a laugh. “Obviously, he doesn’t have much say in that, but I still tell him to.”
When the Astros were in Seattle near the end of the season, I watched Dante, wearing a Houston uniform, catch fly balls hit by his dad before a game at Safeco Field. He definitely looked like he knew what he was doing.
“He loves doing that,” Gary Pettis told me. “Whenever I come here, that’s what he does. He comes over and he likes to take some swings in the cage and go chase fly balls.”
I didn’t get to see the hitting session, but Dante — who says he’s learning to switch-hit — gave me a scouting report.
“Pretty good, honestly. The batting coach said it wasn’t a bad swing. He said if I was in there more he could fix it up a little bit.”
George Springer, a rising Astros star, came over to chat with Dante Pettis as he stood in the clubhouse. He’s friendly with all their players, just as he was with members of the Texas Rangers, where Pettis coached for eight seasons before joining the Astros.
On fall Saturdays, Astros players often huddle around an iPad with Gary to watch Dante play with the Huskies, the same way Dante follows Houston’s fortunes from afar.
“After his last high-school game, I found myself thinking, man, what are Friday nights going to be like now?” Gary Pettis said. “And then to have him play at the University of Washington … I guess Fridays aren’t as good as they used to be, but Saturdays are better.”
Gary doesn’t mind that his son decided to forego baseball, admitting that kids today don’t find it as exciting as football or basketball. He and his son both reject the theory that Dante gave up the sport because he felt he couldn’t live up to Gary’s baseball legacy.
“Dante’s always been a confident kid, and he’s always expected to do well in whatever it was,’’ Gary Pettis said. “Even in school, he’s always expected to do well. I don’t think it would have been any pressure. I just think that once he started playing all the other sports, and seeing how much fun they were, baseball kind of took a back seat.”
“It honestly didn’t have anything to do with my dad,’’ Dante Pettis said. “Football was there for me, I guess.’’
Dante stresses that even though he stopped playing baseball competitively, “I never stopped working out for baseball.”
And he’s gotten to see the game at the highest level, including Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, when his dad’s Rangers were one strike away, in both the ninth and 10th innings, from clinching. But the St. Louis Cardinals pulled off one of the biggest rallies in baseball history to win that game, and clinched the World Series title the next night.
“Oh, man, that was bad,’’ Dante said with a grimace.
He recalled that all the Rangers’ family members were ushered into the tunnel in the ninth inning to get ready to go on the field and celebrate with the team.
“Everyone’s cheering, they’re one out away,’’ he said. “Then that ball gets over and hits the wall in right field, and everyone’s just dead. Then we have another chance to win in the 10th and it happens again. It was just unreal. People were so crushed. The roller coaster of emotions was crazy.”
Astros fans went through a similar roller-coaster Monday when Houston couldn’t hold a 6-2 lead in the eighth and lost the potential ALDS clincher to the Royals. Dante got to watch that one, to his dismay.
“That was bad,’’ he said. “I mean, two innings away from moving on.”
Dante Pettis loves to tease his dad on Twitter about his aggressive tendencies in the third-base coaching box — particularly when a runner Gary Pettis has waved around gets thrown out at the plate.
“I feel like he thinks everyone is as fast as he was, so he just sends everyone,’’ Dante said.
Before he knew the outcome of Wednesday’s game, Dante Pettis was committed to seeing the Astros in person if they made it to the World Series, even though the Huskies would still be in the midst of their season.
“Even if I had to fly out one day and fly back that same night, I’d be completely fine with that,’’ he said.
Gary Pettis believes that Dante’s exposure to so many big baseball games has helped him adjust to playing high-stakes football.
“He’s seen the sport played at the highest level and some of the biggest moments,’’ he said. “I think that’s why he’s comfortable out on the football field.”
“Especially since I’m so close to it,” Dante agreed. “I’m not just like a fan. I feel I’m more part of the team than a normal fan would be. I feel it definitely does help.”
The Huskies have just such a big game on Saturday, a chance to finally beat Oregon. Dante Pettis’ dad will be watching, wherever he is and however he can. It’s the family way.