When Lance Berkman reached out to see if his Second Baptist (Houston) baseball team could play in the Horizon (Scottsdale, Ariz.) national tournament, it didn’t take long for Huskies coach Eric Kibler to say ‘yes.’
Berkman led the small private school to the 4A Texas state championship in his first season as head coach two year ago. Berkman’s pitching coach is Andy Pettitte. Between them, they have 33 years of major league baseball playing experience, before both finished up their careers in 2013.
Pettitte had 256 career wins and 2,448 strikeouts, all but three of those seasons spent with the New York Yankees. Berkman, an outfielder and first baseman, spent the bulk of his career with the Houston Astros, a career .293 hitter with 366 home runs and 1,234 RBIs.
“They look like they can play right now,” Kibler said before his team faced Second Baptist on Monday night in the last game on the first day of the annual Horizon National Tournament. “Such good guys.
“(Pettitte) is coaching their pitchers, and (Berkman) is coaching their hitters. They can’t be bad.”
The team is here for the Horizon tournament through Thursday, when the championship game will be played at 7 p.m.
Last year, Second Baptist reached the Texas high school semifinals.
Houston Second Baptist’s Community connections
The team has been a feel-good story for scribes. Pitcher Jackson Ryan is the grandson of legendary pitcher Nolan Ryan. Jackon’s dad is Reid Ryan, president of the Astros, who helped with the healing process of a community hit hard by Hurricane Harvey last August with the Astros run to the World Series championship.
Jackson Ryan is an inspiration, refusing to let cerebral palsy to keep him off the mound as a relief pitcher, transferring his glove to his throwing hand after he releases the ball, much like former major league pitcher Jim Abbott (born without a right hand) did.
Jackson soaks in his grandfather’s knowledge.
“He gives me a lot of insight into how to be able to pitch well, just the mental side of the game,” Jackson said. “I get a lot of tips from my coaching staff and my grandfather on the mental side of the game.”
Don Massey, Second Baptist athletic director who accompanied the team to Scottsdale, said some families have still been recovering since Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. Two of the players, he said, lost their homes in flooding.
Second Baptist, which also has a church on the same property, was able to help about 20,000 people in need.
“It stopped the whole city of Houston for a while,” Massey said. “Many of our families in our school were affected. It was devastating.
“A lot of them are still being constructed. A lot of (the homes) had to be completely gutted and rebuilt.”
Berkman said because spring break came earlier this year, he was looking for a tournament to go to, because he wasn’t able to take his team to Florida this year.
Part of the team’s time here will be spent at Cactus League games.
What brought Berkman and Pettitte together again
Berkman said the Astros winning the World Series served as an outlet for families having to rebuild their lives.
“It was kind of a rallying point and these kids were into it,” Berkman said. “The Astros played a huge part in the city being able to rally back. If you visited right now, you wouldn’t even notice anything was amiss. I know there are still homes that don’t have sheet rock. But on the exterior, they have all of the debris cleaned up. The streets are fixed. Infrastructure-wise, we’re in great shape.”
Berkman and Pettitte were Astros teammates from 2004-06, the only years Pettitte didn’t pitch for the Yankees.
“He’s been probably my best friend for the past 10 to 15 years, so it’s been great,” Berkman said about coaching with him. “We have a lot of fun doing it.”
After winning state together in Berkman’s first year at Second Baptist, Berkman chuckled, “It’s only downhill from there.”
Pettitte, who has Louisiana roots but raised in Texas since the fourth grade, coached his son at Second Baptist, before Berkman came in.
“We’re a small Christian school, so it not only allows me to coach baseball but to talk about my faith,” Pettitte said. “I can share it with these kids. I had a chance to coach my son. He’s gone onto college and I’m actually enjoying it more without my son being here, without the pressure of coaching your son.”
Pettitte recalls how Houston rallied from the damage inflicted by the catastrophic hurricane.
“It was impressive to see what the city did,” he said.