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Yankee making name for himself

August 19, 2007|From the Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Joba Chamberlain, a pitcher by trade, knows all about location. He has a locker next to Roger Clemens. He's learning his way around New York. And, best of all, he's in the middle of a pennant race.

Now there's one thing the 21-year-old phenom for the New York Yankees can't wait to do: share all of this with his dad, Harlan.

"We'll figure it out," the pitcher says.

There's plenty of time now because he isn't going anywhere soon. After passing on pricey relief help at the trade deadline, the Yankees called up Chamberlain on Aug. 7. It has been one rapid ascent through the minors.

Chamberlain struck out the first batter he faced against the Blue Jays that night. The right-hander made two more relief appearances since and has eight strikeouts in five scoreless innings, flashing a wicked slider to go with his 99 mph fastball.

"He doesn't go out there with any thought other than to do his job, which is great," Yankees Manager Joe Torre said. "A lot of young players go out there saying 'Oh, I hope nothing goes wrong here,' but I don't see that attitude in him."

Chamberlain, whose parents are divorced, is very close with his father, who has needed a scooter to get around long distances since post-polio syndrome -- a breakdown of muscles later in life -- set in after a 1991 fall.

"Everybody tries to make a big deal out of it, but he took care of me when I was sick," said Chamberlain, selected by the Yankees with the 41st pick in the 2006 draft. "He put a roof over my head, food in my stomach, just like any other dad would do."

Chamberlain went 9-2 with a 2.45 ERA at three minor league stops this year, striking out 135 batters in 88 1/3 innings and holding batters to a .198 average.

He began the 2007 season at Class A Tampa before working his way to triple-A, where he was converted into a reliever. The bullpen is only a temporary stop. He's eventually slated to anchor New York's rotation with rookie Phil Hughes.

"It takes a little bit to get used to, not so much the pitching part of it but the routine and the warmups," Chamberlain said. "I'm getting a little bit better at it. My body's recovering a little bit better and I'm getting a better feel of how to train in between days when I get those days off."

Chamberlain made his first appearance at Yankee Stadium on Monday, electrifying the sellout crowd by striking out two in a perfect eighth inning against the Orioles.

He pumped his fist and yelled after Aubrey Huff swung and missed for the final out.

"He has a chance to be good as he goes along, but we'll see," said Baltimore shortstop Miguel Tejada, who almost threw his bat down after Chamberlain struck him out to begin the inning.

The Yankees are closely monitoring his work, giving him a day off for every inning he pitches in an outing.

"We have to really caution ourselves not to get overly excited even though it's tough not to get excited about what you've seen from him," Torre said Wednesday.

Chamberlain, a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, didn't start pitching until he was a senior in high school. He started his college career at Division II Nebraska-Kearney.

His father talked up his son to Cornhuskers Coach Mike Anderson when he worked at Nebraska baseball games. Chamberlain transferred after his freshman year, and Anderson realized he had something special.

"He was on a mission when he came to us," Anderson said. "He was ready to be in great shape. He was not going to fail and you started to see that in the fall of his sophomore year."

Chamberlain helped the Cornhuskers reach the College World Series in his first season, going 10-2 with a 2.81 ERA. He had a 16-7 record, 3.29 ERA and 232 strikeouts in 208 innings in two years under Anderson, who wasn't surprised by his rapid rise as a professional.

"He likes to give," Anderson said. "He's competing for the Yankees organization. He wants to win for that team. He has a sense of family."

Chamberlain was born Justin Chamberlain. He got the name Joba (pronounced JAH-bah) when his uncle adopted a little girl who couldn't pronounce cousin Joshua's name. It somehow stuck with him instead.

The crowd chanted his name Monday night, a sound Chamberlain hopes to hear again.

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