Tex's principal helps with principles

New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira (25)

New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira (25) singles during the bottom of the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium. (April 13, 2011) (Credit: Christopher Pasatieri)

BALTIMORE

Mark Teixeira spent last evening with his parents and other family members, something approaching ritual for the first baseman when he has an off day in Baltimore.

But before heading to John and Margy Teixeira's home in nearby Severna Park, their son made another trip, one of similar importance. The purpose was to see someone who might as well be family.

Teixeira stopped by his alma mater, Mount Saint Joseph High School, for a late lunch and talk with its principal, Barry Fitzpatrick.

For most, the high school principal is a figure, whether liked or loathed, left behind upon graduation. It's unlikely that many have the kind of relationship Teixeira has with his.

"The adult influences in my life, my father's No. 1, he'll always be No. 1, but Fitz is right behind him," Teixeira said this week. "There's not another person I respect more when it comes to questions about faith or just living."

The relationship's origin goes back to Teixeira's freshman year. As a 14-year-old, he was told his mother had breast cancer, a battle Margy ultimately survived; she's now cancer-free. Fitzpatrick was among the few outside of his family whom Teixeira leaned on for support.

Fitzpatrick coached the soccer team, and in Teixeira's sophomore year -- the last year he played the sport -- he was a star defender. He also had the principal as his Honors Latin teacher in his junior year.

The developing bond became closer at the end of Teixeira's junior year when one of his closest friends, Nick Liberatore, was killed in a highway accident. Teixeira later established and still funds the Nick Liberatore Scholarship program at the school.

"It developed a closeness," Fitzpatrick said of the two life-changing events. "I think one thing he's taken from both situations is, especially with his family, he takes advantage of every minute he has with them."

Fitzpatrick, the Mount Saint Joseph principal since 1994, has strong New York connections. He grew up in Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, and his father was a New York City policeman from 1947-67.

Teixeira goes to Fitzpatrick, 60, for advice, most of which has nothing to do with baseball.

"Just dealing with kids, really," said Teixeira, who has three of his own. "This is what he does."

To Fitzpatrick, Teixeira isn't the All-Star first baseman who signed an eight-year, $180-million contract three offseasons ago.

Though 30 years apart in age, they banter as friends and, Fitzpatrick said, are "unofficially one another's librarians." Both are avid readers of non-fiction and occasionally drop finished books in the mail to each other.

"I don't ever separate him from the person I know," Fitzpatrick said. "I'm never looking at him as a celebrity or sports star, although he is all those things."

Teixeira said having that kind of person in his life is important.

"Even friends that you're not close to, once you make it, they call you and ask you for stuff," Teixeira said. "So to have a friend like that who's also a teacher, a principal, a coach, it just keeps me grounded. It keeps me in touch with who I am. He knew me at 14, and I need to have the same principles at [age] 30 and as a major-league baseball player as I did when I was in high school."

And so, with an off day in Baltimore, Teixeira could no more skip a chance to see Fitzpatrick than he could an opportunity to see his family.

"I still feel like I get more out of the relationship than he does," Teixeira said.

When that comment was repeated to him, Fitzpatrick didn't immediately respond.

"I think that's a very generous and kind thing to say," he said. "I think I certainly get as much out of it as he does. I think that's a very generous remark. That's very nice."