PEORIA, Ariz. -- It seems like it was just the other day Joba Chamberlain was a young kid pitching in the Yankees' bullpen in front of Mariano Rivera.But that's not reality. It was a decade ago, although time seems to have gone by in the blink of an eye since
PEORIA, Ariz. -- It seems like it was just the other day Joba Chamberlain was a young kid pitching in the Yankees' bullpen in front of Mariano Rivera.
But that's not reality. It was a decade ago, although time seems to have gone by in the blink of an eye since Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy were the Yanks' pitchers of the future.
"At least we're all still pitching," Chamberlain told MLB.com on Thursday morning in the Brewers' clubhouse at the Maryvale Baseball Park.
Kennedy is starting for the Royals. Hughes is still with the Twins, trying to come back from surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome by removing a rib that was causing nerve and vascular impingement. (Hughes kept the rib.)
Chamberlain is in Brewers camp on a Minor League contract trying to earn a spot in the bullpen. At 31, he's the elder statesman now. How did that happen?
"I've kind of flipped roles," Chamberlain said before the Brewers took on the Mariners at Peoria Stadium. "I'm just here trying to make the team and at the same time help the kids out just like all the guys who helped me out. Teach them all the things you have to do to handle yourself correctly."
Chamberlain has struggled a bit in recent years, but at the beginning of his career, he played with the best and the brightest of that Yankees era. He began pitching out of the bullpen, and with the "Joba Rules" in place, he was pushed into a starting role. The rules defined restrictions on Chamberlain's pitch count and innings of work. It didn't work out, and before his New York tenure ended in 2013, he found himself forever back in the bullpen.
In the meantime, Joba made 21 relief appearances in four separate postseasons, including three in the 2009 World Series when the Yanks beat the Phillies in six games. He has that ring, all those memories and the influence of those great teammates. The Core Four, including the great Rivera.
"I had everybody," Chamberlain said. "I had Andy Pettitte. I had Carsten Sabathia. I had Jorge [Posada], Derek [Jeter]. I mean, somebody asked me the question about a week ago: 'If you could put a list of All-Stars together of guys you played with, who would be on it?' I'm like, 'All of them.' Pudge Rodriguez, now a Hall of Famer. There were just so many guys; it would take me a while to do it. I've just been incredibly blessed and honored to be where I've been."
Now Chamberlain is where he is, in his fourth uniform since wearing the hallowed pinstripes. His father, Harlan, once a fixture at both the new and old Yankee Stadiums, is still going strong and living at home in Nebraska. Joba's son, Karter, now 11, is playing basketball and will join his father here in a few weeks during spring break.
The beginning of the end for Chamberlain with the Yankees might have been the famous incident during the spring of 2012 when he dislocated his right ankle jumping on a trampoline with his son. The puncture dislocation needed surgery and was life-threatening. At the time, he was rehabbing from elbow surgery. A year later, Chamberlain was gone from New York.
Joba now looks trim and fit, and he says his fastball is still clocked at 95 mph. His dark beard is neatly trimmed. He's still gregarious, yucking it up in the clubhouse with some of the younger players.
Chamberlain is trying to make the team just like anyone else, and he isn't stressing about it.
"You can't make a team in a week. It just doesn't happen," he said.
Manager Craig Counsell said he likes Joba's influence on a rebuilding team because "he's worn a lot of hats and experienced a lot."
It's a results-oriented business, and Chamberlain's lifetime WHIP of 1.379 and WAR of 7.9 for 10 big league seasons seems to say everything. He hopes the intangibles make the difference.
"I just take the things that I was taught and try to establish it with these kids, so that maybe in 10 years, they're giving back, doing the same thing and have an impact," Chamberlain said. "And if you have an impact on just one person, you've done your job in this game.
"You owe everything to this game. This game owes you nothing. Your job is to continue the legacy of this game, not your own legacy. The legacy of baseball is so important. I'm just extremely proud to be able do that now, because the guys back then did it for me."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.