HOUSTON – Gary Pettis recalled the scene with a laugh but, first and foremost, with pride.
It was in early September of the 2017 season when Pettis, the Astros' third-base coach since 2015, met his son, Dante then a senior receiver/returner at the University of Washington, for dinner on a Houston trip to Seattle.
"(People) recognized him and went right past me asking (for his autograph)," Pettis said on the field Tuesday night before the Astros took a 6-2 loss to Atlanta in Game 1 of the World Series at Minute Maid Park.
Pettis, a five-time Gold Glove winner in his 11-year career in the majors, laughed again.
"(You feel) pride. You’re amused," he said. "It was funny because it’s like, ‘Man, I remember that used to be me.’"
Pettis, now 63, naturally has a lot on his mind at the moment, with the Astros looking to win their second World Series title in five years (Houston won Wednesday night's Game 2, 7-2).
Which isn’t to say the longtime coach isn’t keeping tabs on his 26-year-old son, who has emerged as an offensive threat the last couple of weeks, including last Sunday in the Giants’ 25-3 victory over the Panthers when he caught five passes for 39 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown. He even completed a pass, a 16-yarder to quarterback Daniel Jones on a gadget play.
"I saw him throw the ball and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that was the last thing that I thought was going to happen on that play,’" Gary Pettis said, smiling again. "He hadn’t talked about it, but I guess that’s what you do when you have a trick play – you don’t let anyone know."
Gary Pettis watched Sunday at Minute Maid Park and saw the touchdown reception, though he was in a bit of a rush with a coaches’ meeting about to start. He was briefly delayed as the touchdown first underwent video review, which upheld the score.
"Our meeting was just about to start when it happened," Pettis said. "Now they’re reviewing the play and I’m sitting there going, ‘Hurry up, I’ve got to go to a meeting.’"
Though the last two weeks have been productive for Dante, that has not always been the case in his professional career.
Dante, a second-round pick of the 49ers in 2018, had a promising start, catching 27 passes for 467 yards and five touchdowns his rookie season. But he suffered a knee injury late that year and was limited to 11 receptions for 109 yards and two touchdowns in 2019. Eventually waived by the 49ers in early November 2020, the Giants claimed him shortly thereafter. Pettis was released earlier this season and re-signed to the practice squad.
That beat being unsigned to be sure, but the practice squad is hardly the goal of any NFL player, let alone one drafted as high as Pettis, who was a consensus first-team All-American in 2017 and is the NCAA record holder for career punt returns for a touchdown (9).
This season’s opportunity only came about because of the slew of injuries decimating the Giants’ receiving corps.
"I think he’s very fortunate to have someone that’s actually gone through some of those types of situations," Gary Pettis said of mentoring his son on the ups and downs a professional athlete can go through. "That was an area I could definitely share some experience and (shed) some light on about how sometimes these are things that happen. It’s not really an indication of how good of a player you are. So I was able to help him get through that, basically by telling him ‘Keep your focus, keep working. Your time will come.’"
He added later: "I’m sure it bothered him but, to his credit, he did keep working, he didn’t let it get him down. And I think now we’re seeing the reward for the hard work that he put in."
Dante Pettis played a variety of sports growing up – including baseball – but eventually found his calling in football, which received his father’s full support.
"A lot of people would always ask me, ‘Why isn’t he playing baseball?’ and they would follow it up with, ‘Why didn’t you make him?’" Gary said. "If you force your kid to play a sport that maybe he doesn’t like -- and that’s not to say that Dante didn’t like playing baseball because he did -- but he found other interests in football, basketball and track…you have to let your kid, when they get to high school, do what they want to do."
Pettis smiled one last time.
"He could catch the baseball," he said of Dante, "but he could definitely catch the football."
With Tom Rock