A new starting point
Ex-Boston farmhand plants himself in NY
TAMPA, Fla. -- As much as we've come to believe in Curt Schilling's power of persuasion, maybe we should have known that Carl Pavano would end up with the Yankees, even though Schilling had the free agent over to his Medfield home for dinner after last season.
It wasn't the first time Pavano got an invitation from Schilling, although it had been a while.
"I was 12," Pavano recalled recently. "I was at a baseball camp in New Britain, and Schilling, who was pitching for the Sox farm team in New Britain, was one of the instructors. He invited me and my family to one of his games a couple of weeks later. The day we were supposed to go, he got traded to Baltimore."
That was in 1988. Ten years later, Pavano, who by then had grown into the 6-foot-5-inch pitcher the Red Sox traded to Montreal for Pedro Martinez, made his major league debut for the Expos against the Philadelphia Phillies. The man he opposed: Curt Schilling.
"I guess there was a little irony there," said Pavano, who didn't get the decision in a 3-2 Montreal win decided by an unearned run in the bottom of the ninth off Schilling, who was allowed to go the distance by then-Phillies manager Terry Francona. (Some things don't change, do they?)
Pavano was impressed by Schilling's hospitality last fall.
"He did most of the talking," Pavano said with a small smile. "He talked about the organization, and winning."
But in the end, Pavano proved to be a true Connecticut Yankee, signing with the team he'd rooted for as a child in Southington, Conn., where he imitated Yankee star Don Mattingly in his backyard. "Kind of tough to do," he said, "considering Mattingly batted lefthanded and I hit righty."
The pull of pinstripes trumped even the unusual offer made by Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, who was so eager to have Pavano he was willing to include a pizza franchise (Ilitch owns Little Caesars). The Yankees took Pavano to a Broadway show ("Mamma Mia"), trotted out actor and fan Billy Crystal, and after Pavano had what he called a "great conversation" with manager Joe Torre, he elected to take the Yankees' four-year offer for $39.95 million.
"My heart was always with this team," said Pavano, who actually took a few dollars less from the Yankees than the Sox had offered.
This was not the career path Sox fans had envisioned for Pavano when he and Brian Rose were touted as the best Boston pitching prospects in years. As a reminder of the unpredictability of the baseball business, you don't have to look any further than the divergent paths taken by Rose and Pavano, two New England kids whose destinies supposedly were intertwined.
Rose, who led all minor league pitchers in 1997 with 17 wins, made it to the big leagues first, called up by the Sox that season for an inning in Fenway Park in front of a host of family and friends from North Dartmouth, Mass. That winter, then-Sox general manager Dan Duquette gave the Expos their choice of Rose or Pavano in a package for Martinez. Jim Beattie, then the GM of the Expos, took the tall, lanky pitcher built along the same lines Beattie was when he pitched in the big leagues.
Rose broke down first. There were bone spurs in his elbow, then ulnar ligament damage. The Sox eventually traded him to the Rockies, and since then, he's bounced around, spending time with the Royals, Devil Rays, and Reds, and one summer in the independent Western League. He had a good summer in the Reds' system last year, going a combined 13-5 with a 3.30 ERA on the Double A and Triple A level, and was invited to major league camp this year as a nonroster player. But less than a month before camp, Rose slipped on a patch of ice while jogging. Two screws were inserted in his ankle to repair a torn ligament. The invitation to big league camp was rescinded; Rose is in minor league camp, trying to fight his way back.
Pavano had elbow problems of his own, too, and scuffled with the Expos, losing more games than he won. "But I always had the support of the organization," he said. "We were a young team, a developing team, and they stuck with me."
His career took off after he was traded to the Marlins in a midseason deal in 2002, an eight-player swap in which Cliff Floyd was the prize for Montreal. Pavano was just 12-13 for the Fish in the regular season in '03, but he won two games in the division playoffs, then had his coming-out game in the World Series, outpitching Roger Clemens in what was thought to be the last game of the Rocket's career.
Last season, Pavano was 18-8 with a 3.30 ERA, which made him highly sought despite a career record of 57-58 and a 4.21 ERA. His landing in New York was cushioned by the Yankees' signing of the Big Unit, Randy Johnson, who has deflected much of the attention away from Pavano and another 29-year-old newcomer, Jaret Wright.
Pavano will slide into the third slot in the rotation, which would have him on track to pitch against the Sox next Wednesday in Yankee Stadium, then again in Fenway Park for the Sox home opener April 11, depending on what adjustments the Yankees make because of an off-day.
Training in Tampa, Pavano is no more than a hour away from Rose, but in baseball terms he might as well be in another universe. Their relationship, however, is not defined by baseball, Pavano said.
"We're still best friends," Pavano said. "We'll always be good friends.
"We had fun with it, fun with each other. We were never in competition with each other. Sure, we wanted to do better than the other, but not at the expense of the other guy doing bad or getting hurt. We were very secure in ourselves and confident in our ability.
"We had a lot in common, right off the bat. Both of us were from New England, and New England boys stick together. There were times where maybe other guys were lonely because they didn't have anyone. I had a guy I could relate to, not only on but off the field. We're very supportive of each other.
"He's going to be fine. Like all of us, he's had his own things to deal with, adversity. But he's very upbeat every time I talk with him. He's ready to go."