TAMPA, Fla. -- It was the first day back at the old office for Andy Pettitte, and you could have excused the left-hander if he'd mistaken the clubhouse doorway for a time warp.

The scene at Legends Field seemed much as Pettitte had remembered it three years ago -- his trusty No. 46 jersey hanging in wait, along with T-shirts, shorts, shower shoes and assorted other midnight blue clothing items.

"Everything's kind of the same," Pettitte said. "It feels like I never left."

Pettitte's reintroduction to Yankees life came without much of a red carpet on Wednesday, as the hurler found his locker and immediately attacked the mundane task of unpacking boxes of Reebok cleats.

Over the next few weeks, Pettitte will engage some of the newer faces in the clubhouse, learning their individual quirks and characteristics. Meanwhile, old teammates will embrace Pettitte and wonder why he departed in the first place.

"Andy should be here," closer Mariano Rivera said. "He should have never left. But that's the past."

The first day back was nothing like the morning three years ago that Pettitte showed up in Kissimmee, Fla., reporting for camp alongside Roger Clemens as the newest members of the Houston Astros.

That experience, Pettitte recalls, was gut-wrenching. This, by comparison, was more of a homecoming.

"I was just nervous, didn't know anybody, didn't know the facilities," Pettitte said. "Man, this is just so comfortable, which it should be. It's been great. It hasn't really been strange or awkward at all."

Last month, Pettitte and his wife, Laura, motored on the Major Deegan Expressway en route to a Yankee Stadium press conference. It didn't take long before they chuckled about the surreal situation they found themselves in, house-hunting once more in Westchester County and commuting to the Bronx.

Pettitte's nine-year stay with the Yankees had receded into memory, with the experiences of ranching in Texas and wearing Astros red becoming their new reality.

"I got so locked into the lifestyle down there," Pettitte said. "It's so different and so laid-back. I got so content with everything down there that I didn't think I'd ever come back [to New York]."

So when he drove Tampa's avenues on Tuesday evening, passing the eateries and establishments that border the Yankees' Spring Training home, Pettitte had to pause for a moment and marvel.

"Really, this was the past for me," Pettitte said. "It was great memories, but it was more like, 'When I get old and gray, I'll remember being a Yankee.'"

Now 34, Pettitte is already on his way. His closely cropped hair has become speckled with more than a few silver spots, and even Pettitte admits, "They're getting plentiful now."

The left elbow area that once concerned club officials has been surgically repaired and deemed ready for competition, proving its structure by holding up for 436 2/3 innings over the last two Astros seasons.

He favors ice treatments more, and has incorporated a few extra stretches to keep things loose, but Pettitte's goal of making a full slate of 35 or so starts is already in place.

"I feel like I'm going to be strong and I'm going to hold up," Pettitte said. "Otherwise, I wouldn't have done this. I don't want to go through the agony of feeling like I'd let everybody down if I'm not going to toe the rubber. To me, it's just not worth it. I've made plenty enough money to live in [his current home of] Deer Park, Texas, for a long, long time."

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Until that point, Pettitte plans on using a somewhat increased arsenal, aiming to utilize a changeup that proved necessary when Pettitte's velocity decreased. Pettitte reports his fastball now reaches 93 mph, but will keep his soft-tossing option anyway in an effort to be a more complete pitcher.

As he travels that road, Pettitte will also have a new guide to tutor him, as Ron Guidry -- an instructor the last time Pettitte wore pinstripes -- has taken over Mel Stottlemyre's old pitching coach post. The teacher-pupil relationship shouldn't suffer. Even though things have changed, Pettitte is able to see similarities.

"[Guidry] pitched in New York and in Yankee Stadium, just like Mel," Pettitte said.

Yankee Stadium, indeed. His last time in action there, Pettitte's club was grinding to make up a two-run deficit against Florida's Josh Beckett in Game 6 of the 2003 World Series.

That October evening, Pettitte cheered on a starting lineup that included Nick Johnson, Alfonso Soriano, Aaron Boone and Bernie Williams. No one would dispute the Yankees' marked changes from that point, but a number of the Yankees' mainstays -- Rivera, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada among them -- are still here; never left, in fact.

Neither has manager Joe Torre, who -- through his offseason reunion of the 1996 Yankees -- created the perfect storm that would deliver Pettitte back to the Bronx. So this reacclimation process might not take long, and that's perhaps just as well.

Pettitte is just as familiar as anyone in knowing how the Yankees' annual drill operates: handshakes first, winning next. It's time to get to work.

"That's the thing, just starting all over," Pettitte said. "I had that before I left, and I built that in Houston. Everything else is so much the same."