Joba Chamberlain is a dominant relief pitcher for the New York Yankees. He is known for throwing up to 100mph fastballs and breaking off nasty sliders to strike out opposing batters. However, Sunday night the last thing he cared about was throwing a baseball. He found out late Sunday night that his father, Harlan, was in critical condition in a Lincoln, Nebraska hospital. Joba broke down in tears, prayed with teammate Andy Pettite, and flew to Nebraska on a private plane (arranged by Derek Jeter) to be with his father.
This family’s story is unbelievable. It has “made-for-TV-movie” written all over it. In the October 8, 2007 issue of Sports Illustrated Gary Smith wrote a great article telling the story of the Chamberlain family. Here is the cliffnotes version:
Harlan (Joba’s father) contracted polio as a nine-month-old. He was forced to live in a Lincoln, Nebraska hospital for six years, five months, and eleven days of his childhood. As a result the polio disease left Harlan with a deaf left ear and paralysis over the entire left side of his body. He is now limited to three-wheel motorized scooter the he calls Humphrey. As Smith writes, “A scooter instead of a wheelchair because…well, a wheelchair would make Harlan feel handicapped.”
When Joba was one year old, his parents divorced and he was living full-time with his father by the age of three. Harlan and Joba developed an intimate father/son relationship that few experience. As a supportive father, Harlan would encourage Joba’s love for baseball by spending countless hours sitting in a chair in the front yard. Joba would throw baseballs to Harlan, who would catch them with a glove on his right hand (his only good hand), tuck the ball under his chin, take the glove off, grab the ball, and throw it back. This would happen hour after hour, day after day. Harlan was always the first parent in the car-pool lane to pick Joba and his sister up after school. Harlan refused to let Joba give up after getting cut from his high school jv baseball team as a sophomore. The father and son also shared a bed growing up where they developed an every night ritual as they went to bed saying:
“I love you,” says Harlan.
“I love you,” says Joba.
“Don’t forget your prayers, Joba.”
“Don’t forget your prayers, Dad.”
Last summer, Joba worked his way all the way from single A to the major leagues. Along the way, the world was introduced to Harlan. It was so moving seeing Harlan sitting in his motorized scooter, wearing his Yankees ball cap, fist-pumping with his only good hand, and tears of joy streaming down his face watching Joba succeed on the major league stage.
Whether you are a fan of baseball or not, weather you are a fan of the New York Yankees or not, or whether you have heard of Joba Chamberlain before or not, I ask that you pray for his dad, Harlan. I have never personally met the man, but I know that he is a good man and a good father. The world needs more people like that.
Pray for Harlan. Pray for Joba. Pray for the rest of their family. Pray for peace. Pray for healing. Pray that we can one day soon see Harlan sitting in his scooter at Yankee stadium cheering on his boy with tears streaming down his face again, motivating others to be better parents.