NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Yankees captain Derek Jeter tugged at Joba Chamberlain’s bushy beard and David Robertson gave his former fellow bullpen mate a big hug.
Despite appearing to have worn out his welcome with the Yankees at the end of a tumultuous eight years in New York, Chamberlain had only positive things to say Monday about his old team — a few smiles, too, maybe; it was hard to tell with all that facial hair — before the Detroit Tigers began a four-game series against the Yankees in the Bronx.
“New York will always be special in my heart,” Chamberlain said. “They gave me the opportunity to play this game. They’ve seen me grow up, they’ve seen my son grow up.”
The big right-hander, who didn’t appear in Monday night’s 2-1 loss, burst onto the baseball scene in 2007 as a dominant reliever. The Yankees imposed the “Joba Rules” on their instant star, hoping to bring their former first-round pick along slowly.
He was bounced from starter to setup man to middle reliever over the next several seasons, and he struggled to find a role. He never did match the promise of those first 19 scintillating games in which he gave up one run over 24 innings.
Chamberlain also lost time in his last four years in New York to injuries. He had Tommy John surgery and rankled the organization by breaking his ankle while jumping on a trampoline with his son.
“This game has taught me so much,” Chamberlain said. “It’s taught me to be patient. With all the rules, the five days’ rest and then eight days’ rest when we started. I wouldn’t change anything.”
He continued: “It wasn’t always easy. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I got frustrated at times. But in the end, it made me a better person, made me a better baseball player. I used all of those things that my first seven years – and this offseason – to figure out how to make myself better. Without those experiences, without those opportunities, I don’t think I would have the year I’m having this year.”
The 2009 World Series champion is having quite a year as one of the late-inning mainstays in an ever-changing Tigers bullpen after signing a $2.5 million, one-year contract.
Having grown the beard once he was free of one more Yankees rule, Chamberlain has a 2.40 ERA over 33 appearances since May 14. He’s struck out 22 in 30 innings.
“I guess when you are just told to shave every day for so long, you just say forget it,” he said. “It is not as easy as I thought. Once it gets long, you have to use special conditioners and things like that.”
The 28-year-old Nebraska native took his new teammates out in New York on Sunday night, then got a bit lost finding the visitors’ clubhouse Monday.
Beloved and booed in the Bronx, Chamberlain was hopeful fans would appreciate all he brought to the Yankees in eight seasons.
“It’s going to be interesting,” he said. “I gave them everything I had. I had some great years, I had some terrible years. … I gave them everything I’ve got. I wouldn’t change anything for anything.”
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