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Joe Pettini will be the guy standing alongside manager Brad Mills on a daily basis this season, talking, discussing and dissecting every aspect of the game and the opponent. Pettini is the Astros’ new bench coach, and he brings with him a wealth of experience after working the previous 10 years under one of the game’s all-time great managers in Tony La Russa.
Pettini won two World Series titles as La Russa’s right-hand man, including last year’s scintillating run that culminated with a victory over the Texas Rangers. While he thoroughly enjoyed working for La Russa, who retired after last season, Pettini is ready for a change of pace with the Astros and third-year manager Mills.
“Tony is a Hall of Fame manager and he was great to work for, but as the bench coach for Tony, sometimes you’re limited in what you have to do,” Pettini said. “It’s not like you can ask questions or ask for his input throughout the game, but Brad’s made it known to me he wants an ongoing conversation during the game. For me, I will love that. Just being part of the game and helping him out as the game progresses, I’m looking forward to that and I’m very excited about that.”
Pettini, 57, chose to leave the Cardinals after more than 25 years as a player and coach in the organization for a chance to reunite with general manager Jeff Luhnow, who spent the previous eight years with the Cardinals.
“I’m very excited and really appreciate the opportunity Jeff gave me to come down here and work with Brad,” Pettini said. “I know the situation that’s going on in Houston and that we’re kind of in a rebuilding mode. I spent a lot of years in the Minor Leagues with St. Louis before I got a chance to go to the big leagues with Tony and spent a lot of time with younger players, and I think that experience will come into play and hopefully I will be of help.”
Pettini’s playing career was similar to Mills. Pettini played parts of four seasons with the Giants from 1980-83, appearing in 188 games with one homer and 20 RBIs. Mills played in a reserve role for the Expos from 1980-83, appearing in 106 games and hitting one home run with 12 RBIs.
Pettini will be in charge of organization and running Spring Training this year, which is what he did for years with the Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla.
“He has a lot of experience,” Mills said. “He brings a different way of doing things, which I think is good. I think the message is going to be my message, but in a different format with him and his experience. We’re looking forward to working together. We’ve talked a lot and I feel very comfortable with him.”
Said Pettini: “I’m going to be in charge of outlining the schedule. It’s still Brad’s program and his way he wants things to be done, and my job will be to help outline it and make sure the schedules go up and the meetings run smoothly and everybody knows what’s going on and everybody is on the same page. It’s still Brad’s program.”
The first week to 10 days of Spring Training will be rather hectic for Pettini, as he learns new names and faces and tries to get acclimated to a new complex in Central Florida.
“If you’re outlining the schedule every day, that’s probably the most busy time of the year,” he said. “You have a lot of players when you first get in. It’s not so bad with the pitchers and catchers, but when you have pitchers and catchers and position players report, thank God you have the support of the Minor League staff to come and help with all the players you have. It’s probably the most difficult time. You want to try to outline the program so the guys can go out and get to work. You don’t want guys standing around doing nothing because there’s things they need to do to get off the field.”
Pettini joined the Cardinals organization as a Minor League player in 1984 and went into managing after his playing career ended in 1988. Pettini managed eight seasons in the system. His last stop was at Triple-A Louisville, where he guided the Redbirds to the 1995 American Association championship. Overall, he was 475-569 at the helm of the Cardinals’ farm affiliates.
He was the organization’s minor league field coordinator from 1997-2001 before he began working with the Major League club.
“No matter how long you’ve been in the game or how good you think you are, you have to be able to keep up with the game and understand the game and understand the people and teams you play against,” Pettini said. “I know what it’s like to be a manager. I managed eight years in the Minor Leagues, and when you’re the bench coach, you have to actually follow the game as if you are the manager.
“When the manager has a question, you have to be able to answer it and you have to be able to give input as far as how the game’s going and what could benefit your club, as well as what the other clubs are doing against you.”
Pettini was born Jan. 26, 1955, in Wheeling, W.V., and graduated from Brooke High School in Wellsburg, W.V., in 1973. He received a bachelor’s degree in education from Mercer University in Macon, Ga. Pettini and his wife, Barbara, have been married 30 years and reside in Bethany, W.V. They have two children: Amy and Joseph, and a granddaughter, Marlee Joe.