Saturday, September 8, 2007

The story of Joba Chamberlain

If it's your policy to tune out everything Yankee, you've been missing the intriguing Saga of Joba, one of the best prospects in baseball. Never mind the Joba Rules, or the "relaxing" of them, which may result in the Royals getting a second helping of the kid on Sunday: in 11 appearances -- 14 1/3 innings -- Chamberlain has absolutely dominated, treating seasoned Major Leaguers like string puppets, baffling them with an electric fastball, a nasty breaking ball and control beyond his years. He's struck out 18 while allowing just seven hits and four walks. Billy Butler last night came about as close as anyone to driving in a run off Joba when he jerked a pitch to the left-center warning track. That's right, Joba's yet to allow a run.

If that's not enough, there's the story of his father, Harlan, who grew up on an Indian reservation but spent a good part of his childhood -- six years, five months and 11 days -- in the hospital battling polio. He and Joba, in Lincoln, Nebraska -- before Joba went off to college at Nebraska and teamed with Alex Gordon to lead the Cornhuskers to the College World Series -- often played catch, one while confined to a scooter, the other throwing as hard as he could until the the receiver could stand it no longer, his hand stung so much. "If it wasn't blowin' or a million degrees below zero, we were out there," Harlan Chamberlain says in this nicely done NY Daily News feature.

Harlan drove up from Lincoln with family and friends to watch his son's team last night, and when Joba entered the game, tears streamed freely down his face. He didn't wipe them. We can only imagine what the son was thinking on the mound, what anxieties. Did he know there was anyone else in the stadium? Did he hear any of the 27,000-plus when the most important person was the one who was silent, quietly weeping somewhere on the edge of the lower concourse?

Gary Smith of Sports Illustrated is writing a feature about the Chamberlains, this I found out one day when Michael Kay of the YES Network said off-handedly that Smith has been hanging around the Yankees dugout a lot recently. Writes Aaron McFarling of the Roanoke Times blog: "If Smith -- one of the most talented feature writers in the business -- profiles you, you've either killed yourself, killed someone else or killed your competition. With Joba, I'm guessing it's the latter."

I can't wait to read it. And when the story does come out -- I imagine among people in the know in New York, this is one of Smith's more anticipated pieces -- if you don't already, you will know.

"Everyone knows that he is a special kid and he is going to do a lot of things here in the future," Chamberlain said of Gordon. "Hopefully in the seventh or eighth, it gets close and I get to face [him]."

"I called him last night and told him that if he faces me, he has to throw me a first-pitch fastball," Gordon said with a smile. "I was the older guy at Nebraska, so he has to follow my rules."

Alex Gordon did face Joba in the bottom of the 8th. He singled cleanly to left.

POSTSCRIPT 2: On a lighter note, Harlan Chamberlain kind of looks like a cross between two Office Space characters: Tom Smykowski, the guy who tries committing suicide in his garage, and Milton Waddems, who was infatuated with a red stapler. Check the Daily News feature for a photo. Am I right?

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