KANSAS CITY -- Blanche Peavy's experience when it came to hitting a ball with a bat boiled down to some sandlot baseball, and a little late-in-life fast-pitch softball. That didn't matter to his grandson.
Jake Peavy always turned to his 'Paw Paw' in times of need.
Sometimes the kid from Mobile, Alabama would siphon advice from his grandfather on their rides to school in Blanche's El Camino, or even during the hours spent at the family cabinet shop.
But perhaps the most powerful message was always simply two fingers to the side of the head.
"Where my dad got his knowledge of baseball, I don't know," said Jake's father, Danny Peavy. "But he preached to [Jake] when he was a young kid, 'It's this!' Just pointing to his brain. … This is wild. I couldn't figure how my dad knew that. He only played Thursday night fast-pitch softball, you know? And I remember my dad, even with Jake in Little League, when we would come out of the bullpen, my dad would get to his side and h'd put his fingers right there and say, 'Nobody gets in there but you.' And Jake still takes that approach today.
"And I remember a few years ago, when he was going through all the injuries, when the lat blew out and everything else. Mentally, he was ruined. I called him one night and said, 'Hey, you remember when your Grandpa use to take his fingers and press your temple?' I said, 'Nobody gets in there.' I said, 'You got a lot of [expletive] trying to get in there right now.' I said, 'Don't let nothing get in there.' I said, 'Let good [expletive] in there.'"
The gesture is just part of Peavy's foundation. The making of the newest Red Sox starter is rooted in family values, a player's determination and a mentality that has been one of the chief selling points to the pitcher's new fan-base.
The payoff has been 129 career wins, three All-Star appearances, a Cy Young Award, and, most recently, an eye-opening debut with his new team.
"Jake's always been crazy," Danny Peavy said. "He almost reminds you -- and still today because he's not a big guy in stature -- it's like David against Goliath. When he takes the field, he thinks he's going to win. I don't care who it's against, but even when you're playing basketball in the backyard or whatever, he's going to win."
The making of Jake Peavy hasn't been as simple as waking up one day as a baseball player better than the rest.
It is a path that was rooted in his grandfather's direction, and his father's mentality.
"I played baseball through my sophomore year in high school only cause my dad wanted me to, and I hated it," Danny said. "I was a contact guy. In my upbringing, beyond that, it was never mentioned. It was graduate high school, get out of the house and go to work. That’s kind of the way it was when I was [growing up].
"Even when I was a kid, it was a ... If you’re going to play anything, you’re going to play to win," the elder Peavy added. "You play with everything you got. We came down from the playground to we got over in the work fields, we worked the same way. You play to win, and you play hard."
While baseball wasn't in Danny Peavy's background, he could see his sons, Jake and Luke, had a knack for the sport. It was why he went over to a local junior college and bought a pitching machine for the family's backyard.
Shortly after the purchase, another machine was added to the mix, one that flipped balls up to a hitter. It was a contraption that allowed the participant to feed about 20 balls at a time. Well, as it turned out, the two machines were all the Peavy boys needed to springboard their interest.
"I came home one day and Jake had figured out how to take the little spring out of it so the balls would just pop out, one after another," remembered Danny. "He had three buckets behind the pitching machine. He said, 'Dad, I hit 400 balls today!' That was pretty interesting."
The momentum, however, was quickly sidetracked.
It was determined that an 8-year-old Jake was legally blind, a condition shared by his mother.
"The teacher had moved him to the front row in the class to the back of the row and noticed when she moved him to the back to write any assignments down that were on the board, he had to walk up front to do it," Danny said.
"My wife took him to have his eyes checked, he comes outside from the optometrist, there was a McDonald’s. It turns out he’d never seen a golden arch. I kind of felt bad because we had a batting cage in the back yard, and I just kept hollering and screaming, ‘Quit being late on the ball.’ He was hitting everything to right field. And then I found out he can’t see. Doctor said, ‘I don’t know how you even hit the ball.’"
The corrective lenses went a long way, but as Jake approached high school he faced another challenge. While the rest of the kids were maturing physically, Peavy was finding himself trailing behind.
That's when Jake had to start improvising. That's when the ballplayer became a pitcher.
"He was always one of the better ones coming through, but then when he hit 12, 13, he was behind a bunch of kids because that’s about the time little boys go into their manhood," Danny said. "They kind of surpassed him for a few years.
"Probably the best thing to happen to him pitching-wise came when he was at a small private school, and as a freshman, him and two other boys made the team. So the pitching coach there, and Jake is a freshman probably throwing the ball probably 75 mph, but that guy taught him how to pitch. And then as he got older and the velocity came, he already knew how to pitch."
The decision to send Jake to a private school, St. Paul's Episcopal, in Mobile, Alabama, was one Danny and his wife, Debbie, didn't take lightly. Jake's dad never went to college, heading straight into the family cabinet-making business, but he was going to make sure his sons at least were afforded that option. So with Danny continuing his work at Peavy Cabinets, and Debbie going to work at the local post office, the commitment to send Jake away was made.
Even with a few bumps in the road -- a hamstring injury that drove him away from playing football for good, and a broken ankle suffered his junior year -- the majority of the plan went swimmingly.
Peavy was afforded the opportunity to go to college, at Auburn University, but after the San Diego Padres came calling via a 15th-round draft pick, the pitcher's path was altered. Padres scout Mark Wasinger had developed a relationship with Blanche Peavy, and knew what made Jake tick. It was enough to sell San Diego on investing fourth-round money for the kid most teams were convinced was headed to Auburn.
That's when the adversity kicked back up.
Peavy wasn't comfortable with his new world.
"He called home, 17-years-old and leaving home, country boy basically," Danny recalled. "We’d been to Atlanta a few times and watched the Braves, but he goes out there — Peoria, Arizona — and he calls home and he tells his mom everybody’s rude. He said, ‘The cab driver told me, I better get my hair cut, boy, because everybody with the bangs and all that.' The second day there, he called wanting permission to come home. I told him, this is our decision, we have to stick with it a little longer than this."
Then there was the competition. Because of all the free agents lost by the Padres the year before, San Diego was flush with draft picks. Before Peavy's name was called, his new team had already taken 11 pitchers. And it became evident in a hurry that none of the pitchers were cut from the same cloth as the kid from Alabama.
"Half the scouts that’d come to watch him, most of the time wouldn’t watch him throw any more than a bullpen and say he’s too short," Danny said.
"Jake was always a little funny. He took a little bit different approach as a young kid. Not necessarily knowing what you want to do, but knowing what your opposition wants to do against you, and he combats it that way."
That prejudice regarding Peavy's stature went away in a hurry.
Peavy cruised through the minors, ultimately getting a chance to make his first major league start in June 22, 2002 Yankee Stadium. (Yet even that trip presented challenges with his plane having to make an emergency landing on the way to New York.) After the six-inning, one-run outing, he was on his way.
Eleven years later, the kid from Alabama has landed in a new spot, complete with a new set of challenges.
"After Boston picked him up — and honestly I think he might’ve wanted that in the back of his mind, but he never thought that might be [possible] — once that happened, you could hear a little bit of a buzz in him, high static," Danny said. "It’s like a day later when he joined he said, ‘Dad, this is the big leagues.’ Not to put anything else down, but he said, ‘This is the big leagues.’"