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Pettitte honored with Spahn award
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01/14/2004  6:48 PM ET 
Pettitte honored with Spahn award
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Andy Pettitte answers questions at a news conference at the Oklahoma Sports Museum. (Sue Ogrocki/AP)
HOUSTON -- Amidst the furor that took over the city of Houston after Roger Clemens inked a one-year contract to play for the Astros in 2004, Andy Pettitte managed to sneak out of town for the day on Tuesday to accept a special award exclusive to southpaws.

During a ceremony at the Oklahoma Sports Museum in Oklahoma City, Pettitte received the Warren Spahn award, an honor given each year to the top left-handed pitcher. The award is named after Hall of Famer Spahn, the winningest lefty in Major League history. The ceremony was postponed from its original December date after Spahn died in November at his home in Broken Arrow at the age of 82.

"It's very special to me," Pettitte said of the award. "I never got to see (Spahn) pitch and never really saw clips of him so I didn't know a whole lot about his life. I learned a whole lot about him yesterday going to Oklahoma City. They've got an Oklahoma Sports museum and they have a special place, a big statue of him.

"I didn't realize what a great pitcher he was. I knew he had a whole lot of wins, but just the complete games he had, it's just amazing."

Pettitte, who received a two-foot bronze statue of Spahn performing his signature high leg kick, led all big league lefties with 180 strikeouts in 2003 and tied with Seattle's Jamie Moyer for the most victories by a left-hander with 21.

The Oklahoma Sports Museum has been giving the Warren Spahn award since 1999. Randy Johnson won it in each of the first four years.

"If you can't win a Cy Young award, at least you can get the best lefty in the league award," Pettitte grinned.

Pettitte returned from Oklahoma City Tuesday night and made his first community appearance the next morning at Fondren Middle School, whose students were rewarded for their participation in the Astros' Honor Roll Program. Pettitte and radio announcer Milo Hamilton conducted a question and answer session and also talked of the importance of staying in school and maintaining good grades.

Students who make the honor roll in the first grading period of 2004 will be rewarded with free tickets to select Astros home games.

As the venue of Pettitte's first community stop since signing a three-year deal in December, the Fondren students enthusiastically welcomes Pettitte to their school with a number of standing ovations and cheers.

"It's good to give back to the community," Pettitte, a Houston native, said. "You've given back up in New York for the past nine years and it's going to be very special to be here for the next three years and try to touch some of the people here in this area."

But like most Major Leaguers, Pettitte is looking ahead to Spring Training, where he'll report to the unfamiliar territory of Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, Fla., on Feb. 21. Like most folks in Houston, the left-hander is still getting used to the idea of he and Clemens wearing Astros uniforms in 2004.

"It's not going to sink in until I get on the field with the guys and put on the uniform and run around with them," Pettitte said. "But it's starting to sink in a little bit. I realize just going around town, it's special. The city's so excited, especially with Roger coming. We want to make things special. Hopefully we can do great things here."

Especially if that means chipping away at manager Jimy Williams' habit of giving his starters the quick hook. In 2003, Astros pitchers finished last in the league with one complete game.

But that was before the Astros signed two pitchers with 140 career complete games between them. Clemens has 117; Pettitte 23.

"I've already talked to Mr. Williams," Pettitte said. "That's just something we'll deal with. Hopefully he's got a little longer leash with us this year. That's why I'm trying really hard, I'm already working on my hitting and my bunting and hopefully I won't get pulled out of the games for that."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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