Seven years ago, our family roster was a lot different. We had no kids yet. Grandma Flo was still around, as was Uncle Bernie. So was Pete.
The Rangers were coming off two playoff seasons in three years, and were 10 weeks away from making it three of four. Pudge and Juando and Raffy and Aaron Sele were the heart of that 1999 team, Rusty and Mark McLemore and John Wetteland its soul.
And now all seven of them are gone, each in a different place.
They're not really gone.
Right now, that's how I feel about my father-in-law. He's gone. But not really.
Pete passed away a couple weeks ago, following a courageous, challenging battle with cancer. He died peacefully, with his daughters at his side. He spent his final days with his children and his grandchildren, the equivalent for Pete, whose love of baseball was certainly strong enough to earn my admiration very early on, of a sellout crowd.
I'd known Pete for 16 years. In that time, he redefined himself (though I knew him only one way) with the type of courage, character, and heart that his Astros showed last summer, when they defied the odds and reached the playoffs. Last fall brought the franchise's first World Series, and Pete's, too. Days after his first cancer surgery, he was in the ballpark, experiencing the Fall Classic at Minute Maid Park. I'm no Astros fan, but you would have never guessed that last October, judging by the number of playoff emails Pete and I traded, sometimes pitch-by-pitch.
Before long, Craig Biggio will be gone, as will Roger Clemens and Jeff Bagwell.
But not really.
Pete would have congratulated me on the Carlos Lee trade, less because he liked it for Texas than because it got Lee out of the NL Central. And he'd have brushed off the impact of Francisco Cordero joining the Brewers pen with a comment about how Lance and Aubrey will eat Coco up.
There were the intermittent jabs about Jerry and Jimmy and the "Cowgirls," and an occasional discussion about Willie or Buffett or Clapton or Cash, or some new food preparation he was particularly proud of, but it usually came back to baseball. We had lots and lots of baseball talks. Not the surface, water-cooler kind, but philosophy and critique and debates that would have made you think we were talking politics or religion . . . which, to my way of thinking, we sorta were.
Among the things that struck me most about Pete was not only the strength and character of his friends, formidable to be sure, but more so the strength and character of Pete's friendships. It's inspirational, and maybe the most important lesson he leaves behind, at least for me.
I already miss Pete, but there's a level of comfort in knowing his discomfort has passed.
And I take additional comfort in the fact, one that I'm completely certain of, that while this baseball analogy is clunky and forced, maybe even crass, I know a few people will understand, and maybe even appreciate it. Pete is one of them.
It will be Pete's and my corny, awkward, clichéd baseball exchange to share. It's not the first, and I don't think it will be the last. He may be pushing a new crawfish recipe on Cash, or working the Times crossword with J.R. Richard, but whenever there's a big baseball moment, in Arlington or Houston, I know he's dropping everything, and getting ready to weigh in.
Jamey Newberg, author of www.NewbergReport.com as well as seven annual Bound Editions of the Newberg Report, is a lawyer at the Dallas firm of Vial, Hamilton, Koch & Knox, maintaining a practice specializing in general civil litigation, school law, sports law, and insurance coverage. He earned his undergraduate degree, his law degree, and two "Thanks, but no thanks" pats on the back from Coach Gus after trying to walk onto the University of Texas baseball team in 1987 and 1989.