Just before heading into the visitors clubhouse Friday night at PNC Park, David Carpenter stopped to sign autographs for fans of the opposing team.
Some wore Pittsburgh Pirates gear, while others donned the logo of the Pittsburgh Panthers. Either way, Carpenter represented the opposition.
Born in Morgantown, Carpenter grew up in Fairmont before playing catcher for the West Virginia University baseball team. In the years since the St. Louis Cardinals drafted him in 2006, he has molded himself into a pitcher, now for the Houston Astros.
Before Carpenter and the Astros opened a three-game series in Pittsburgh Friday, the former Mountaineer sat in the visitors' dugout and reflected on what it meant to him to be back in a park he frequented in his youth.
"It's a lot of fun. You get to come to a place where I got to come up and watch some baseball games when I was younger," Carpenter said, eyes darting across the field. "It's just a lot of mixed feelings as far as excited, a little bit nervous with a lot of familiar eyes coming up to watch and it's major league baseball – what's not to be excited about?"
Truth be told, there is not much these days that could be used to answer that question. Carpenter has plenty to be excited about, and in turn, so does Houston.
Coming into his first full season in the major leagues, Carpenter applied as a candidate for the team's closer, but ultimately yielded those duties to veteran Brett Myers. Under pitching coach Doug Brocail's watchful eye, he continues to progress and earn high marks from the man who will ultimately determine what his role is going forward.
"David's probably my best student," says Brocail. "He'll go down to the bullpen and throw 15 pitches right after he gets loose and it allows him to get to his position with his release point every single day. He's not afraid to work, he's not afraid to bust his hump, and I'd like to have seven of him down in my bullpen."
Carpenter has no real plans of becoming a starter, but he continues to work to develop his pitches so that the arsenal he brings to the mound is more diverse.
He throws hard. That has never been a secret.
Former WVU pitcher Justin Asbury remembers the team clocking Carpenter's throws from home to second base at 90 miles per hour, and as a pitcher, he relies on his mid-90s fastballs to get him through relief appearances.
In the past year, though, Carpenter began working on a change up and ultimately settled on a splitter, which he is growing more comfortable with by the day.
"It looks like somebody's normal sinker, but since David throws so hard, it looks like a split finger," says Brocail. "It's just another pitch that's going to help him out and obviously his numbers prove he's been extremely success."
Still, the room for improvement is tremendous for a player learning the ropes of a position that was relatively new to him when he joined the professional ranks. His 0-2 record is all the proof needed to show that he is still pushing toward becoming the pitcher he hopes to be.
"There were a couple instances in both losses that I have to Miami where I just tried to be a little too aggressive at times, let my feelings get in the way as far as trying to blow a ball past a guy instead of being a little smarter and making a little better pitch down in the zone," says Carpenter.
He will use those experiences as opportunities to learn and develop his game and his mindset going forward to aid a Houston team that currently sports a 15-17 record.
On Friday, though, he was soaking in the opportunity to play so near to friends and family from West Virginia. His father, Darrell, picked him up in Pittsburgh when the team first arrived so he could spend the night at home in Fairmont before heading back for the games.
For Darrell, the sight of his son taking the mound in the big leagues is not only a source of personal pride, but also one for the state the Carpenters represent.
"That means a lot. We're very proud to be West Virginians and to be a part of that," he says as he watches his son warm up in the outfield. "That's something I've always stressed to him is to represent the state well, and I feel like he's done that not just as a ball player, but as an individual."
Carpenter's Astros won the first game of the weekend, 1-0, a successful start to the trip. His progress to this point bodes well for what the former Mountaineer has ahead of him as he lives out his dream of major league baseball in Houston.