Baseball Column COVID-19 Wilson Youth Sports

COLUMN: Pettway Family Getting By With Positivity

“Oh, what could’ve been,” has been repeating in my head.

The flow of constant uplifting stories from Long Beach sports is cut off like a faucet spun tight, and it’s left me wondering.

Two months ago, one of the stories on my radar revolved around the Pettway family and what could’ve been a sensational start to their summer.

Zach Pettway is a Wilson High alum and top pitcher at UCLA this season. Ryan Pettway is a senior at Wilson and was leading the Bruins baseball team after a record-breaking year as quarterback on the football team. Leah Pettway is a sophomore softball player at Wilson who was producing in the heart of the Wilson lineup this season.

All three siblings’ teams looked poised for memorable postseason runs, and they all could’ve been in the playoffs at the end of May.

UCLA was at the Long Beach NCAA Regional last year, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility to imagine the Pettway brothers taking the mound at Bohl Diamond at Blair Field just weeks apart from each other.

But that’s never going to happen, and to be honest, I was pretty bummed about it until I called Zach and Ryan last week to see how they were doing.

Surprisingly enough, the Pettway brothers ended up lifting my spirits with their positive perspective.

“Obviously it sucks, but there’s a lot more stuff going on right now,” Zach said. “It’s bigger than sports. We’ve got a lot to be grateful for, and we have to remember that.”

Their parents, Sean Pettway and Christine LaMarre, have tried to keep the lessons coming. It’s somewhat easier because Sean is a stay-at-home dad, and Christine works with Veterans Affairs.

“She’s kind of in the thick of it over there,” Sean said. “I’m trying to make sure (my family is) alright because it’s hard, but I’m looking at that from a 50-year-old’s point of view. I’m trying to impress that upon (my kids) that, ‘Look, I know you’re young, and these are the things you were looking forward to, and it’s disappointing you won’t have a chance to do it, but in the bigger picture, you’ll see as you get older, there’s still a lot of fun things you can build on and talk about when you get older’.”

“It was pretty heartbreaking to lose that last year of baseball, especially because we got off to a really good start,” Ryan said. “Both of our parents understand what we lost and that it’s tough and it sucks, but you just have to keep moving on.”

When Ryan found out last month that the College World series was cancelled, one of his first thoughts was of his brother and other local baseball players losing that senior season.

“Especially for all of the Long Beach guys… These are the guys who played Long Beach Little League with, these are Whaley Park kids, these are some of your best friends forever, like guys who are going to be in your wedding,” Zach said. “You’ve played high school baseball with them for the last time. We were talking about it with our parents, and I couldn’t imagine what my life would be if I didn’t get to play my senior year of high school baseball.”

Wilson baseball coach Andy Hall is feeling pain along with his players, but isn’t surprised the Pettway brothers he coached are leaning on family for support.

“Oh, they’re very different, for sure,” Hall said of the brothers. “But they come from two very good parents, and mom and dad have done a great job with those guys.”

Both Pettway brothers are now former Wilson pitchers with hundreds of innings under their belts, and they even share a room at home.

“Their clashes are what I consider normal,” Sean said. “Ryan is pretty strong willed, and Zach is a little more easy going. Those personalities still clash, and part of that is because they’re brothers, but I like the fact that they’re still willing to go work out together. They even pull Leah in there. It’s kind of nice. Zach was talking about how weird it is playing catch with a softball.”

In an effort to “change it up a little bit” for his kids, Sean is tearing down an old batting cage and putting up a net behind a basketball hoop to stop the ball from flying over the gate.

“Honestly, it’s been lots of family time, Netflix and hanging out,” Zach said.

Zach was in the midst of a breakout junior season at UCLA. The right-hander had a 1.05 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 25.2 innings over four starts this year.

“Zach was a natural born leader by example at Wilson,” Hall said. “At first he wasn’t highly sought after in terms of recruiting, but I remember (UCLA coach John) Savage being a little reluctant at first. But once (Pettway) got there, pretty early on Savage texted me and was just really fired up about him. He said ‘I really like this guy, and I’m really happy to have him’.”

Last year, Ryan set multiple records in his third season as Wilson’s starting quarterback. He’s also leaving with a 2.29 ERA on the mound and a .300 batting average at the plate for the Bruins baseball program.

“Ryan is definitely a different personality,” Hall said. “He’s very competitive and wants his teammates to follow him for who he is as an athlete. He had very high expectations for his teammates and coaches.”

Leah led the Wilson softball team with seven RBIs, and was second with 10 hits, after just nine games this season. She started at third base, and looked ready to follow in her brothers’ footsteps of being memorable student-athletes at Wilson.

“It’s tough because they were all having great years and it’s so fun watching it,” Sean said. “It’s your kids, you’re their biggest fans, and then it’s gone.”

Like so many other Long Beach sports families, we’ll never know what could’ve happened on the field for the Pettways this season. But now I know they’re doing well together at home, and that’s something.

JJ Fiddler
JJ Fiddler is an award-winning sportswriter and videographer who has been covering Southern California sports for multiple newspapers and websites since 2004. After attending Long Beach State and creating the first full sports page at the Union Weekly Newspaper, he has been exclusively covering Long Beach prep sports since 2007.