Bill Center Union Tribune wrote:
April 7, 2005 - Jake Peavy will set aside his Southern manners when he starts tonight's Padres home opener against Pittsburgh.
To know Jake Peavy, you have to know Semmes, Ala.
More precisely, you have to know the lakes and the woods, and the stretch of Highway 98 known as Moffat Road as it passes through the rural suburb between Mobile and the Mississippi border.
"It's Bible Belt and I'm proud to say I was raised in the Bible Belt," Peavy said recently. "I was raised to say 'Yes, ma'am' and 'No, sir,' to treat people the way you want to be treated.
"But I was also raised with a competitive streak inside me . . . to have that fire. In everything I ever played, I wanted to win . . . to beat the other team.
"I want to beat you with every ounce of my being."
The 23-year-old right-hander who will take the mound tonight against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Padres' home opener at Petco Park is "an unusual young man," pitching coach Darren Balsley said.
"In some ways, Jake is mature well beyond his years," Balsley said. "And in some ways, he's like a kid having the time of his life."
No one knows this better than Peavy, who last year became the youngest pitcher to win the National League ERA title since Dwight Gooden (21) in 1985. But he stressed that success or failure won't change who he is as a man or as a husband.
"I don't want people to think of me going home and having people think I'm better than I am," he said. "I'm still that kid who didn't have a dime walking along Graham Road. I remember where I come from."
And should he ever need a reminder, there is Katie to give him a nudge.
Katie and Jake Peavy married when he was 19.
But they have known each other since before Jake can remember.
"Katie tells me what it was like when I was 2 or 3 years old," he joked. "She was much older than me at the time, 3 or 4."
The Peavys and Alfords both went to the Moffat Road Church. Katie Alford lived on North Graham Road, Jake Peavy on South Graham Road. They were separated by Highway 98 . . . and little else.
"Katie was at the first birthday party I can remember," Jake said. "She was pretty much at the first of everything I can remember. As we got older, I dated a few other girls for a while. I always wound up asking myself, why?
"Katie and I . . . well, I got extremely, extremely lucky to find a girl like Katie. I couldn't have picked a better person. She is so giving."
Not that it has always been easy. Both of Katie Peavy's pregnancies were difficult, and at one point they were told there was risk to both mother and baby.
"We just went back to the way we were raised," Peavy said. "That got us through, along with a lot of great friends like Adam and Meggan Eaton and Phil and Kristin Nevin."
The Peavys also share a love of the outdoors and the Semmes lifestyle.
"Katie grew up the same way Jake did, although I think her dad was more into fishing," said Danny Peavy, Jake's father. "She's probably better at fishing than shooting. Debbie and I don't think our son could have found a better wife."
The Peavys have already made one major lifestyle decision. Semmes is their home. And when Jake II, now 4, starts school, Katie and the boys will live in Semmes during the school year.
"It all goes back to home," Jake said. "We want the boys to be raised the way we were raised. He'll go to school in Alabama and to be close to both families."
Not that things can possibly stay the same, even in Semmes, pop. 1,200.
"When I was growing up, we had a Dairy Queen and a Hickory Pit barbecue," Peavy said. "Now a Super Wal-Mart is coming in. I almost hate to see Semmes change."
Peavy is building a retreat on 3,000 acres on the Alabama River near Miller's Ferry, where he will fish and hunt with Jake II and Wyatt.
"I have to have a getaway from Semmes," he said.
That's because Peavy has become a hero in his hometown.
"When he comes home, people bombard him," said Danny Peavy.
The problem, said his former coach, is Jake.
Andy Robbins coached Peavy at St. Paul's Episcopal School, a 1,600-student kindergarten-through-12th grade school in Semmes. As a senior, Peavy was 13-0 pitching and hit .443 with eight homers, leading his team to a state championship.
"But he was so humble," Robbins said. "All of Semmes seemed to be his extended family. And he wasn't like this big athlete. He was not big in stature. But he worked so hard and was so tenacious, so focused. People here love that in a person."
Peavy hoped to pitch for the University of Alabama, but when the school offered him only $250 a semester to cover books, he reluctantly accepted a full scholarship at Auburn. Then the Padres drafted him in the 15th round in 1999, and it was off to the pros instead of college.
Robbins remembers getting a call from Peavy's father the day Jake was called up to the majors in June 2002.
"Jake's dad said that the Padres had called Jake up and that he was going to be facing the Yankees," Robbins said. "And he said to meet him at the airport."
Not only Robbins, but Peavy's Little League coach, aunts, uncles, grandparents and a few friends. If Peavy was going to the majors, so were the people who helped him get there.
"When we got to San Diego, there were about 25 of us," Robbins said. "Jake had invited us all, and he wasn't making that much then. Katie was there to greet us (at the airport.)"
When it comes time to pitch, Peavy is no longer Mr. Nice Guy.
"Something goes off," he said. "Not at 9:30 in the morning or 4:30 in the afternoon. When I put on the headphones before the game, I get right mentally."
The music will be country, and not the pop Western of the moment. The sounds could be Alabama . . . down home. And inside, the fire will be building.
"I don't know any other way to go," said Peavy, who thought he might be a freak of nature until he saw Roger Clemens during an All-Star tour of Japan last fall.
"I had no idea he was as fiery as he is, as I am. The way he went out there that first game in Japan, it fired me up. I saw that in him. I can relate to that."
And Clemens related to Peavy, saying, "He impressed the heck out of me."
Not just his stuff, mind you. His approach, too. Pour every ounce of your soul into the game.
"Life is simple where I come from," Peavy said. "To become a husband and father early in life is very common where I'm from. You don't have any choice but to mature, focus and work hard. Being married put a perspective in my life. I'm committed."
With some values not shared by every ballplayer. He is, for example, along with Trevor Hoffman, the most outspoken of the Padres against performance-enhancing drugs. Make that any and all illegal drugs.
And last year he made an unusual decision as he approached negotiating his first major contract.
His agent at the time, Scott Boras, is known to wring every last penny out of a franchise for any player, much less one with Peavy's numbers. Peavy decided to change to Barry Axelrod, who had closer ties with the Padres.
"I like Mr. Boras and I knew he'd do a great job for me," Peavy said. "But money is not why I'm pitching. I changed because of my values and beliefs. I didn't want the Padres thinking I was upset or . . . you know what I mean.
"For me, changing agents was the best move I ever made. Please change that to second-or third-best."