by Matthew Taylor
(photo source: Sports Illustrated. Click on link for original photo and article)
Sad news today for a division rival. Roar from 34's thoughts and prayers go out to Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain, whose father collapsed at his Nebraska home on Sunday night.
According to ESPN.com: "Joba Chamberlain's sister called the Yankees during the eighth inning of New York's 8-5 loss at Boston on Sunday night. The newspaper said the reliever spoke with his sister after the game and broke into tears, and manager Joe Girardi tried to console him."
Perhaps more than any other sport, baseball is about fathers and sons. In October Sports Illustrated chronicled the special relationship that Chamberlain shares with his father, Harlan, who raised his son on his own despite the debilitating effects of the polio he contracted as a child.
Of course it's limited. How long can it last? Not Joba's arm or his success. What really matters: his time left with his dad. That's all the boy could think of when he got that call just after last season, a weak voice on the phone rasping, "Help me... help me...." He raced home from a nearby restaurant to find his father shaking from the pain of an appendix that would burst minutes later on the operating table, setting off a series of complications that stemmed from the polio and came within a whisker of ending his life.
They made it through, together. Through nine days on a ventilator, two weeks in intensive care, five months in the hospital. Through the staph infection and the abscessed ulcer. Scared the hell out of the kid, seeing his dad scared for the first time in his life.
And so, after a life of never missing even the tiniest moments, his 56-year-old dad has to miss the biggest moments. Has to remain at home, still unable to travel a year after the surgery, watching his son fulfill the dream a thousand miles away, on a TV screen.
Finally, no matter how many times Joba calls him on their cellphone walkie-talkies for their good-night ritual, or text-messages it from a faraway hotel and tries to update him even on takeoffs of the Yankees team plane -- Wheels up. Love! -- the distance grows too much to bear. Harlan gets a doctor's clearance, packs up on the first Friday of September and drives the three hours of cornfields to Kansas City....
Place the crippled Native American orphan on his new candy-red scooter in the on-deck circle of a major league ballpark during batting practice, his cellphone jangling with calls from media across the country, and one Yankees star after the next -- A-Rod, Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte, Torre -- introducing himself and praising him for the job he did raising his son.
Place the son on the grass nearby, loving every minute of it.
Place the father in the handicapped section in Level 3 of Kauffman Stadium two hours later, his extended family and friends seated just in front of him, watching the Yankees enter the seventh inning with a 3-2 lead over the Royals.
Place the son in the outfield grass, jogging toward the mound as the P.A. announcer booms, "Your attention, please! Now pitching for the Yankees...."
Place the father's hands on the scooter's handlebars, squeezing them tighter and tighter, as if the thing's hurtling backward a hundred miles an hour. Watch his daughter, Tasha, hug him and say, "This is it, Dad," as his family and friends leap and scream.
Watch the son turn his back to the plate, look to the sky and hold his Yankees cap over his heart. Watch the father remove his Yankees cap and do the same as the tears stream down his cheeks....
You know by now, of course, what it is that has been assembled and what JO-BA! really means. It's the thing hammered into the father all his life, and thundering now in these late-summer skies over Yankee Stadium. The glory of hope at the death of expectation.