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What Love's Got to Do with It

Joba Chamberlain has taken New York in a blaze of glory, his success traced to a nurturing father who used his own tortured youth, Native American roots and some lessons in humility to fan the flame inside his son

Posted: Wednesday October 3, 2007 11:36AM; Updated: Sunday October 7, 2007 2:57PM
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Chamberlain's 100-mph heater seemingly came out of nowhere, but his passion? That came from Harlan.
Chamberlain's 100-mph heater seemingly came out of nowhere, but his passion? That came from Harlan.
Darren Carroll/SI

It began somewhere. In one throat. It had to, as every wave must begin with one molecule of water and every fire with a single spark. JO-BA!... Who was the first to cry it out that August night, and what made it leap to the next throat and the next until 54,000 people at Yankee Stadium were crying it as one?

This never happened when Joe D first appeared. JO-BA!... Not for Mickey or Yogi. JO-BA!... Not for Guidry or Mattingly or Derek. JO-BA!... Why each evening thereafter, when the Native American kid trotted toward the mound for an inning or two of work, did that word rise and roar again like a yearning? JO-BA...? What did it mean?

Why here, in this cathedral to achievement, where the kid had achieved nothing? Here, where the assembly manual had been read long ago, where everyone knew how to build dynasties and superstars no matter how unsatisfying the final product turned out, how many championships they'd failed to win in recent years or how many superstars seemed smug or flawed. JO-BA!...

Here, in the house of the team with no patience for weakness, the team that ate its young, trading them for established stars and giving away draft picks to sign the best free agents money could buy because dominance was its entitlement, and the future always had to be now. JO-BA!...

Here, welling up from all these people whose fondest dream was for their sons to be that kid , all convinced that the only way was to sign them up for year-round travel teams and private instruction, to make them elite at each level of development.

JO-BA! Two syllables that meant it was time to tear up the old assembly manual and distribute a new one.

Caution: Please read all instructions carefully before operating.


One pudgy Winnebago Indian boy
One father with polio
One three-wheel motorized scooter
One tiny white house
One bed, shared by boy and father
One big cardboard box full of used bats, gloves, bases and catcher's gear, purchased from the Sacred Heart yard sale for $3


Place the father on a chair on the front stoop of the tiny white house in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Place the pudgy boy on the gravel road. Have him throw baseballs to the father, who catches them with a glove on his right hand, tucks the ball beneath his chin, whisks off the glove, grabs the ball and throws it back with the same hand because his left one is gnarled and useless.

The boy must throw with accuracy. Otherwise he must chase the ball because his father's left leg is dead.

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