A father of four children, Pettitte knew he was missing important events at home during the 2010 season, and that produced tempting thoughts of retirement. But he continued to battle himself, trying to rationalize that he could always grit through another season and fly home on off-days whenever possible.
"Literally up until a couple days until I announced my retirement, I was going to play," Pettitte said. "Everybody wanted me to play. The Yankees wanted me to play; they gave me a ton of money to play.
"Even if I was miserable, I'd just come back and be miserable for another year, because everybody else wants me to do this. I just felt in my heart like it wasn't the right thing to do. That's really what it came down to."
So Pettitte called it quits in a preseason news conference, dipping under the radar. While the Yankees played on, he spent most of his summer throwing batting practice to his sons and their friends, grooving four-seam fastballs to be belted to the outfield. Pettitte would later joke that he probably threw more pitches in 2011 than any past season.
Tweaking his aim to hit the corners against professional hitters might have been just a relatively simple modification for the battle-tested veteran. But Pettitte was consumed with being the best coach he could be for his 13-year-old son Jared's Pony League team, having missed far too many at-bats while wearing Yankees pinstripes and those three years of Astros brick red and sand.
"It definitely helped," Pettitte said. "Obviously, you can never get those years back. I'll never be able to coach my oldest boy, [Josh]; he's past those years. I missed that opportunity with him, but it was great to see him pitch and to compete in high school. I'd never had a chance to see that; he played on varsity.
"It was fun for a dad to see your kids go out there and do something they love. I don't know if it made up for it, but it definitely makes me feel better about being gone all those years, having an opportunity as a dad just to do all that stuff with my kids."
The Pettittes -- 11-year-old Lexy and 7-year-old Luke are the youngest -- weren't exactly demanding that Dad stay home. They rather enjoyed the perks of having a father who happens to pitch in the big leagues, which produced something of an all-access pass to stadiums across America over the years.
Manager Joe Girardi has made the Yankees' clubhouse a more welcoming environment to players' families, a perk that CC Sabathia, Andruw Jones, Eric Chavez and others take advantage of with regularity. Recently, Josh and Jared suited up for batting practice in lockers next to their father's for a Subway Series game.
"They absolutely love this," Pettitte said. "If you ask them, it's like, 'Don't retire.' They enjoy it. This is all they know. Any time I talk to them, they're like, 'No, we're good, we love you playing. We're good, Dad.'"
Having his sons promised access to turns as Yankee batboys for road games wasn't enough to convince Pettitte that he should sign up for another year of grueling workouts. Setting foot on a lush Spring Training diamond did prompt the hurler's mind to race, however: maybe it would be OK to get back on a mound after all?
"I started praying about it and talking with my wife about it," Pettitte said. "Obviously, how your wife feels has a huge impact on what I'm going to do in my life. She's always, 'Hey, I'm behind you. You're the man of the house. Whatever you feel is the right thing to do for this family, you're going to try to do the right thing.'"
Pettitte hopes that he has. Even as his remarkable comeback chugs forward in five-day increments, the left-hander feels tugs toward home, knowing that cell phone minutes and airline miles don't make up for being present. But Pettitte is secure that he made the most of his year away, just being a father.
"I don't know how this year is going to end up, but I just feel like this is where I need to be right now," Pettitte said. "Do I want to be home with my kids and traveling around with my boys, playing summer baseball right now? Yeah, to a certain degree.
"But I'm sold out and committed to being back here with this team for this year. I had a chance to go home and see how my boys are doing, see how they're growing up, see if they're becoming the kind of men that you hope you're raising your kids to be. Not that they're perfect, but ... I just feel really good about it."