Peavy treasures Akerfelds' friendship
KANSAS CITY -- When Jake Peavy was at his lowest point, Darrel Akerfelds kept telephoning with words of support and encouragement.
Peavy understands how lucky he was to have a friend who gave everything he had and gave nothing in return. As he watched his friend wage a courageous fight against a disease that would not beaten, Peavy simply wanted Akerfelds to know how much he'd meant to him.
"He was everything to me," Peavy said Tuesday. "He was a friend. He was a mentor. He was also a father figure because he was older and more experienced. At the end of the day, Darrel was an incredible baseball guy."
That's exactly the message Peavy attempted to deliver Monday when he joined Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers and Padres manager Buddy Black in giving eulogies for Akerfelds during a memorial service in San Diego.
"He was as good a friend as you can have," Peavy said. "He was a trench guy, a warrior. When you have someone in your corner in good times and bad times, that's special.
"We experienced a Cy Young Award together [when Peavy won in 2007 for the Padres and Akerfelds was a member of the coaching staff]. He was with you in the best of times and the worst of times. It was tough saying goodbye and trying to comfort his family."
This has been a season of extreme joy and sorrow for Peavy. After four years of pain and disappointment, he has again established himself as one of Major League Baseball's best pitchers on a Chicago White Sox team that's one of the game's feel-good stories.
Yet it has also been a season of pain as Akerfelds finally died of pancreatic cancer. Before flying to his third All-Star Game -- his first since 2007 -- Peavy went to pay his final respects to his buddy.
Peavy feels lucky to have had some heart-to-heart talks in Akerfelds' final days, and he was able to tell him he loved him and appreciated his friend. And then there was Monday.
"I wanted people to understand what kind of man, what kind of friend he was," Peavy said. "It was an incredible show of support from people around baseball. It said all you needed to know about what kind of person he was."
Afterward, Peavy flew to the All-Star Game that symbolizes his re-emergence as one of baseball's elite pitchers.
"Yesterday was such a sad day and today is such a happy day," he said. "I'm very humbled. Darrel is in a better place. I truly believe that. I'm glad my buddy doesn't have to fight the fight he had to fight."
Peavy had to fight a different kind of battle as his right shoulder began to ache and as the stuff that was once some of baseball's best diminished. Finally, in 2010, Dr. Anthony Romeo performed a procedure in which he reattached a tendon and muscle in Peavy's right shoulder with stitches and titanium anchors.
"There was no certainty," Peavy said. "If you're having shoulder surgery or Tommy John, you know what to expect. Your route back is mapped out. When you have something nobody else has had, you don't know. Dr. Romeo told that 18 months out of this thing, you'll know what your arm is going to be able to do. That's the only clarity I had. He just didn't know. There were times that I thought, 'Gosh, I can't believe this is the way it's going to end.'"
Peavy made it all the way back one grueling rehab session at a time. He's 7-5 and sixth in the American League in ERA (2.85), fourth in innings (120), sixth in strikeouts (108) and tied for first in quality starts (14).
Along the way, Peavy has rediscovered his love of the game.
"I'm in a very good place in my life right now as far as taking it all in and being a role model," he said. "I couldn't be happier with our staff and the team we've got."
Peavy said landing in Kansas City on Monday night with his family was a reminder of how far he'd come.
"I was on a plane last night with my dad and my brother and my family," he said. "Your family lives and dies with you, especially when you've had a career like I've had. They're with you on top of the mountain and in the lowest of the valleys. They've lived it with you the last few years. They've talked to you on the phone in the worst of times. They're waiting there when you come out of surgery. They drove me to rehab when I couldn't pick my arm up to drive. Coming in last night was neat to share."
When someone asked about being back on a contending team and all the fun the White Sox might have down the stretch, Peavy smiled.
"I'm thinking about my next start and nothing else," he said. "At this point in my life, I've learned not to look too far ahead. I'm just taking everything in and enjoying the ride."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.