Forget about hitters. This hurler took on a snake

November 7th, 2019

If asked which three Braves pitchers totaled at least 22 wins from 2006-07, you’d likely remember John Smoltz and Tim Hudson, but forget Chuck James.

This certainly wouldn’t surprise James, who admits he doesn’t draw any attention when he takes his family to SunTrust Park to see the Braves play.

“I’m a 5-foot-11 guy who claims to be six-feet tall,” James said. “They aren’t looking at me thinking, 'That guy was a professional athlete.'”

Seven years have passed since James ended his professional career and more than a decade has elapsed since the suburban Atlanta native played for his hometown team. He debuted for the Braves during the final week of the 2005 season (in time to gain "Baby Braves" status) and earned a spot on the '06 Opening Day roster.

James limited the Rays to one unearned run over eight innings when he made his first big league start on June 25, 2006. Over a 40-start stretch that extended through July 2007, he ranked fourth among National League left-handers with a 3.81 ERA before his shoulder became an issue. But he’s probably best remembered for some of his off-the-field adventures, which included being bit by a venomous copperhead snake.

Those who remember James know he spent his offseasons working with a contractor associated with a local Lowe’s. It's no surprise that he is currently employed by Window World, which is located in Marietta, Ga., about three miles from SunTrust Park.  When the 37-year-old meets with clients about assessing various exterior housing needs, he occasionally encounters someone who recognizes him.

“Every once in a while, I’ll get a funny stare and somebody will say, 'I know you from somewhere,'” James said. “Then, they’ll say, ‘You’re that guy that got bit by that snake.’”

The fact James even made it to the Majors is a miracle when you consider all that happened to him in 2002, during the weeks and months before the Braves selected him in the 20th round of the MLB Draft.

While messing around a lake with some friends that year, a shoeless James felt something prick his foot. Not realizing what had occurred he put his foot back down and suddenly learned he was being bit a second time by a copperhead.

James survived those bites, as well as the ill-fated dive he made off a roof, just a week before the MLB Draft. His attempt to jump into a pool proved unsuccessful when his foot went through the roof, causing him to fracture both of his wrists.

“It was an expensive jump,” said James, who had heard he might be selected within the first five rounds that year.

Another recent visit with a client reminded James of the day he nearly had to fight . The client had been given a video of top moments in Braves history. Included was a clip from Aug. 30, 2006, when James hit Bonds in the back of the helmet with a 2-0 fastball.

It was the first time James had ever faced Bonds. During their Minor League days, he told that if he ever faced Bonds, he’d attempt to blow him away with an array of fastballs, despite the fact his heater rarely sat above 90 mph.

“I might have overthrown that one,” James said. “I reared back and threw it as hard as I could. When I looked, the ball was going straight toward his head. He crouched down for a second. Then when he came up, I was thinking, 'Oh [no], I just hit Barry Bonds.' He came out to the edge of the grass. I thought I was going to have to beat his tail in front of 40,000 people. It’s not like there was a big size difference.”

More than a decade later, James still possesses that dry sense of humor that made him such a likeable character. He was the kind of underdog fans loved to see succeed. After attending Mableton Christian Academy, he went to Chattahoochee Valley Community College in Phenix City, Ala., which also produced Hudson.

Looking back, James’ only regret is he didn’t immediately address the left shoulder issues that developed in 2007 and lingered after the Braves released him following the '08 season. He underwent multiple surgeries, made a brief, triumphant return to the Majors with the Twins in 2011, and retired after spending the next year in the Minors.

James lives in north Paulding County with his wife, Julie, and their two sons, Tucker and Weston. He remains in close contact with Morton, and when the kids’ schedule allows, he enjoys making the short drive to SunTrust Park to see guys realizing the dream he was fortunate enough to live.

“I grew up in a small town and my college had a picket fence in the outfield,” James said. “I had no expectations, because I didn’t know what to expect. But I got to be a kid longer than most, and it was everything they make it out to be.”