Earlier this year Joba Chamberlain and David Price were teammates on the Detroit Tigers pitching staff.
Chamberlain landed in the Toronto Blue Jays organization after the Tigers released the reliever in early July. Price, a much sought-after starter, came to Toronto in a blockbuster trade deadline deal this week.
What does Chamberlain think of the move?
“I texted him. I said, ‘Stop following me,’” Chamberlain said, then laughed, while talking with reporters in the Coca-Cola Field dugout before the Buffalo Bisons took on the Pawtucket Red Sox Friday night.
“No, I mean everyone sees what he does on the mound but he’s an incredible person,” Chamberlain said.
That seems to be one of the most important things to Chamberlain – quality of character along with baseball life perspective.
The 29-year-old spent seven seasons with the New York Yankees, and was part of the 2009 World Series-winning team. He went 23-14 with the Yankees from 2007-13, appearing in 260 games while starting 43. He then played two seasons with the Detroit Tigers, this year going 0-2 in 30 appearances out of the bullpen before the Tigers released him in early July.
A few teams came calling, including the Blue Jays. It was a bit of a full-circle moment for Chamberlain, who made his MLB debut for the Yankees in 2007 in a game against the Blue Jays in Toronto.
The opportunity became more exciting this week as Chamberlain watched the Blue Jays make bold trade deadline moves, the one for Price and the acquisition of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki from the Colorado Rockies.
“It says something about the organization and the will to win,” Chamberlain said.
He believes his experience, consistently being on teams which make the playoffs and winning a World Series, is a value that he adds along with his late-inning work on the mound.
But the Nebraska native remains just as eager to learn from the young kids. Baseball education is a two-way street for Chamberlain, who has given up four earned runs in his first three relief appearances for the Bisons.
“You’ve just got to continue to learn and grow,” Chamberlain said. “Doesn’t matter if you’re 19, 29, 39 or 49, you can always grow and become a better person. You can always learn from someone who’s 19 if you’re 49 and vice versa. That’s the greatest part about this game.
“I think it’s a different perspective. It’s different eyes. They may see something or they may have worked with somebody that taught them something different. They’ve been around the game. … You can’t be so closed-minded and closed-hearted not to listen to these kids. I think that’s an important factor to a lot of these guys. I’m going to ask you questions just as much as you ask me questions. I think that makes them feel a little bit more comfortable. Just because I have big league time doesn’t mean I’m any better than you.”
While Chamberlain keeps an open mind around his younger teammates, he does hope to demonstrate one life lesson he finds incredibly important – there’s more to life than the game.
“I’m going to be Joba Chamberlain the rest of my life. I’m only going to be a baseball player for so long,” he said. “So you just try to teach these kids to play the game, have fun and understand that this is not life or death and there’s so much more to it.”
In some ways, “it is life or death and for me it is as well,” Chamberlain said. “It provides for my family and all those things as well but there are so many other things that are more important than the monetary things this game brings you. It’s something I had to get over, you know, coming from a kid who had no money to having a lot of money real quick. It’s something you have to learn.
“Life has kicked me a lot of times and I’ve gotten up every time. Coming to play this game has been pretty easy. This game is hard to play physically and mentally but like I said life is going to hit you a lot harder than this game ever will and I just take it in stride. You’re going to have great outings. You’re going to have terrible outings but as long as you get a chance to wake up the next day, every day is good.”