Dante Pettis makes NCAA history in win over Oregon
It was 7:01 p.m. on April 27, nine minutes before the first pitch of the Astros-A's game in Houston. Gary Pettis was beginning to accept that he'd have to watch the start of his son's NFL career on replay.
Pettis, the former Gold Glove outfielder and current Astros third-base coach, figured Dante Pettis, the Washington receiver and his second son, would be selected on Day 2 of the draft. But when during the four-hour telecast?
As Round 2 got underway, Gary watched with four other coaches who had come to know Dante, a frequent visitor in the Houston clubhouse over the years who would effortlessly shag fly balls at batting practice next to the Astros players.
With the eighth pick in the round, the Broncos took a receiver … but it was Courtland Sutton from SMU. At that point, Gary Pettis and the Astros coaches got up from their seats and hustled outside for the national anthem and the start of the game. As a high-school band played the final notes and the words "home of the brave" echoed in the stadium, Pettis looked up at the clock and figured — what the heck? — if he hurried, he could watch another few minutes of the draft. Maybe he'd get lucky.
"My fear was that he was going to get drafted and I wasn't going to be able to see it," Pettis recalled Tuesday. "And as I ran upstairs, I saw that the 49ers had made a trade. And in the back of my mind I had this feeling that this could be it. And sure enough, I heard them say his name. And, man, what a thrill that was."
The Pettises aren't just a talented family. They could air their own variety show.
Gary won five Gold Gloves during his 11 years as an outfielder and stole 56 bases for the California Angels in 1985. Dante's mother, Peggy, is a former Raiderette cheerleader. His older brother, Kyler, played Theo Carver, a character with autism, on the soap opera "Days of Our Lives." A cousin, Austin Pettis, played four seasons for the St. Louis Rams.
Then there's Dante, who did the usual sports as a kid – football, baseball, basketball and track – but who always had a lot more interests than that.
He can play the guitar and ukulele. Like his brother, he sang, danced and performed as a child. He likes to read and, while at Washington, could be seen around campus with a camera in his hand. Landscapes – a snowy valley here, a sandy shoreline there – and nature shots were his focus.
Gary Pettis began bringing his son to the stadium when he was maybe 4 or 5 years old, starting him out with a plastic ball and bat. Pretty soon Dante was running down pre-game fly balls in the same outfield as Albert Belle and meeting Ken Griffey Jr.
Slim at 186 pounds, Dante has the frame, fluidity and tracking ability of a center fielder. Gary thinks his son probably could have excelled at that sport if he had chosen it. But around his sophomore year of high school, football emerged as Dante's top pursuit.
"I think he kind of knew that football was where I was leaning to," Dante said of his dad. "I had had a lot of fun playing baseball and everything like that, but I don't know, there is something about football that is just different than every other sport. I think he saw that I had that kind of passion for the game."
Gary was able to see his son get drafted last month because the 49ers traded ahead 15 spots in the second round to get him.
Dante's 6-foot-1 height and soft hands appealed to coach Kyle Shanahan, a former receiver. So did Dante's ability as a punt returner. He brought back an NCAA-record nine punts for touchdowns at Washington, the record breaker coming just three days after the Astros won the World Series.
Mostly, the 49ers were impressed by Pettis' Renaissance-man traits on the field. He can play each of their receiver positions because he has such a tremendous feel for the game. In college, he was exceptional at setting up and moving past defensive backs with his body language or knowing precisely when to accelerate or cut as a returner.
"He's extremely talented, a very good route runner," Shanahan said. "He can separate and has extremely good hands – very quick, fast enough to run all the routes. And when you meet him, you see how smart he is, how hard he works, and you get why he's the full package.”
When he saw the 49ers jumped ahead and were on the clock, Gary Pettis had a sense that's where Dante would land, in part because San Francisco was one of the teams he visited prior to the draft. But there also was something poetic about him becoming a 49er.
Gary is an Oakland native. The Astros are in the same division as the A's, which means regular trips to the Bay Area. Dante, for instance, spent Monday afternoon with his father at the stadium and took part in batting practice with his Astros buddies.
"He talks to a lot of the guys. They're all pretty friendly with him," Gary said. "They're on – what do they call it? – instant messaging or Instagram or whatever they call it. They reach out to him that way, and obviously when he's here, he goes around to the guys and they come around and visit with him as well."
The Pettises also live in Orange County, stemming from Gary's years with the Angels. He noted the 49ers will play 12 of their 16 games this season in the Pacific time zone, two of them in the Los Angeles area.
The only thing that could scuttle an autumn full of family reunions is if the Astros go deep into the playoffs again. Gary smiled at the prospect.
"I guess I'll trade that for missing a few of his games," he said.