Seeing Joba live a 'blessing' to father
Unable to travel far, elder Chamberlain enjoys son's dominance
KANSAS CITY -- Harlan Chamberlain started crying.
He had watched his son, Joba, "hundreds of times" in person. He played catch with him every day when Joba was growing up, watched him in high school and junior college. He saw him become the ace at the University of Nebraska and help the Cornhuskers reach the 2005 College World Series.
But he had never seen him like this -- watching him pitch in a Major League game, live, from the stands. Harlan, who has polio, is confined to a wheelchair.
He doesn't travel often and has watched his son pitch for the Yankees only on Major League Baseball's Extra Innings television package. But when Joba and the Yankees came to Kansas City, Harlan had to make the trip from his Nebraska home.
And when Joba entered the seventh inning of Friday's game against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium, Harlan became emotional.
"I will never forget this night," Harlan said. "September 7, 2007. To actually be here was pretty neat. It was a real blessing."
Joba continued his incredible scoreless streak, tossing two shutout innings. He allowed just two singles and still hasn't allowed a run in the Major Leagues. Through 11 appearances, Chamberlain has tossed 14 1/3 scoreless innings. These two, though, were actually a little bit easier for Chamberlain.
"We had a tight game going on and it is a situation where I want to be in," he said. "Doesn't matter what is going on. It is a big game for us no matter who we are playing."
About six hours before his son appeared in the game, Harlan pulled into Kauffman Stadium. Along with family members and friends, Harlan made the three-hour trip from Nebraska to Kansas City.
He reached Kauffman about four hours before first pitch and spent time with a Sports Illustrated photo crew, met Yankees manager Joe Torre and talked with lefty Andy Pettitte's father.
Joba was certainly happy to see his father -- as well as most of the state. Joba and Royals third baseman Alex Gordon are longtime friends, teammates and Cornhuskers legends.
In 2005, Chamberlain went 10-2 with a 2.81 ERA and Gordon won the Golden Spikes Award as collegiate baseball's player of the year.
Neither player knew how many tickets he asked for. Chamberlain couldn't even estimate the number -- "I haven't even counted; I just put my name and number next to a list" -- and Gordon received a barrage of phone calls and text messages asking for tickets.
Because the Cornhuskers football team is traveling this weekend, this Yankees-Royals series is the must-see event for many Nebraskans. Harlan put the number of Cornhuskers fans in attendance on Friday night at 10,000.
However, no fan was likely happier than Harlan.
"I think that if you stand, like, 35 feet away, you can probably see his smile," Joba said with a smile and laugh.
Harlan has always helped Joba. He taught him all he could about pitching.
"What I know about pitching will fit in a thimble; what I don't know will fit in the Smithsonian," Harlan said.
But Harlan did teach his son one piece of advice -- advice that helped Joba hone a dominating fastball.
"'If you throw a curveball, I will take you right out,' and he never did," Harlan said. "A kid growing up, a curveball is not something that he needs to be throwing.
Harlan saw Joba take his talent to Nebraska, win 16 games in two seasons and be picked as a supplemental first-rounder in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft.
When -- on Aug. 15, 2006 -- his appendix failed, it appeared that Harlan may not be able to see his son pitch again.
"When your appendix blows up at 54 years of age, there is a lot of other stuff that happens," Joba said. "When a 21-year-old man's appendix blows up, you are in and out of the hospital, but when you are a 54-year-old man who has polio ..."
Harlan's body didn't react well to painkillers. But he kept fighting, didn't give up. He wanted to continue living -- and continue watching his son play.
"A year later, he is finally back to where he was, and he is finally 100 percent," Joba said.
Harlan could watch his son skyrocket through the Minors. First, there was the 4-0 record and 2.03 ERA in seven starts at Class A Tampa. Then, 66 strikeouts in 40 innings at Double-A Trenton. Finally, 18 strikeouts and one walk in eight shutout innings for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
And then the Majors. Harlan watched his son pitch 10 games and throw 12 1/3 shutout innings.
"I knew he would always make it," Harlan said. "I felt in [my heart] that he would always make it, but to move this fast, it is always surprising. He has jumped right in and become a part of it, and the rest is history. Now we just make new history."
Harlan saw on TV the incredible ovations and "Joba, Joba" chants his son received at Yankee Stadium. He wanted to see his son play in person, and this weekend offered an opportunity.
When he arrived at Kauffman Stadium, Harlan was greeted by Torre and his son's teammates. Torre approached Harlan, who extended his hand. Torre asked Harlan to call him "Joe."
"When each of the players came up and introduced themselves to me, it meant a great deal to me," Harlan said. "It was indeed an honor to meet [Torre]."
Harlan enjoyed another incredible experience when his son came in to protect a 3-2 seventh-inning lead. Joba threw 98-100 mph consistently and pitched a scoreless seventh.
"I understand somebody told me that he hit 100 six times and 101 once," Harlan said. "That is bringing [it] up. It amazes me, whether it is Joba, or [Carlos] Zambrano or [Joel] Zumaya."
In the eighth, Chamberlain faced his former teammate, Gordon, with one out. A few days ago, Gordon told him to throw him a first-pitch fastball. That is exactly what happened.
It was 100 mph. Gordon swung and missed.
"I got my first pitch to hit, and I was swinging," Gordon said. "You can't let those go by against a guy with this kind of talent."
Gordon eventually singled, but Chamberlain finished the inning with no damage. After Mariano Rivera closed out the ninth, Chamberlain met his dad and family, capping a night his father would never forget.
Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.