When he made the phone call four years ago, Charlton Jimerson was a nobody, and a clueless one at that. He had no idea that Miami, almost without fail, made the pilgrimage to the College World Series in Omaha each June or that he had no business expecting to play for the Hurricanes with only one noteworthy season of high school ball in Hayward, Calif., under his belt.
Still, like so many other hopeful nobodies before him, Jimerson, who had been accepted at Miami and offered a partial academic scholarship, got a brief long distance audience with coach Jim Morris and began rattling off his athletic talents. He offered to send newspaper clips extolling his performance as a senior at Mount Eden High, where he'd batted .424 with four home runs. Morris listened until the nobody said one last thing: "Oh, and I was just drafted by the Houston Astros in the 24th round."
"I asked him, 'Why didn't you say so in the first place?' " said Morris, recalling the conversation last week. "See, ever since I got a call years ago from a young pitcher nobody had heard of—a guy by the name of Kevin Brown—I learned that I ought to hear everyone out."
Maybe no one more so than Jimerson, who stole the show at the 2001 College World Series and led Miami to its fourth national championship and second in three years. Jimerson, a 6'2", 200-pound centerfielder, provided stolen bases (seven, including four in the Hurricanes' 12-6 semifinal rout of Tennessee), glovework (his wall-climbing catch helped Miami to a 4-3 win over Southern Cal) and momentum (he had a leadoff home run in each of Miami's first two victories). Even after Jimerson had been named the series' Most Outstanding Player on the heels of Miami's 12-1 rout of Stanford in the title game, it remained difficult to overstate the breadth of his performance in Omaha. "Given where Charlton came from, only one word comes to mind," said Morris. "Unbelievable."
By all rights, Jimerson should never have gotten to Miami. He grew up in a single-parent household with his younger brother, Terrance, but by the time he turned 13 his mother, Charlene, had fallen into heavy drug use, according to his sister, Lanette, who was 20 at the time and a student at Cal State-Hayward. When it became obvious that Charlene couldn't care for the boys, and with their father, Eugene, homeless in Berkeley, Lanette stepped in. She moved her brothers into her $600-a-month apartment and became, says Charlton, "our mother in every sense of the word. She saved us. She saved the family. I had a hard time in the beginning, because she was always on me, about my grades, everything. But she gave up so much for me, I couldn't complain. She didn't let me become bitter, and that made all the difference."
As time passed Charlton began rebuilding his relationships with his parents. "I'd talk to my mother by phone," he says, "and I'd ride to Berkeley to see my dad, find him on the street and hang out with him. We might see a movie or just talk. Most people wouldn't understand, but even with our past, all that pain, we're doing fine."
At the beginning of this season at Miami, however, Jimerson's baseball career was not. He'd been a part-time player who had trouble hitting off-speed pitches and had little to show for his stay in Coral Gables beyond a .240 average and $40,000 in student loans, without so much as even a partial baseball scholarship. Several impressive hitting displays by Jimerson during a series of midseason practices, coupled with regular centerfielder Marcus Nettles's struggles, landed Jimerson a starting spot with 26 games left in the season. He never relinquished the spot.
As Jimerson heated up, so did the Hurricanes. They won 19 of their final 22 games to finish the regular season with a 44-12 record and ranked No. 1 in the nation, but foremost on their minds was relieving the anguish of having failed to reach last year's World Series. "We were in shock for a long time after [losing in the regional] last year," Miami first baseman Kevin Brown said last Friday in Omaha. "We had to make it back here."
Stanford, too, was playing with a purpose: to avenge its last-inning 6-5 loss to LSU in last year's finale. Despite having lost six starting position players and its entire rotation from 2000, the Cardinal had swept through this College World Series much as Miami had, with capable pitching and exceptional defense. But shaky fielding and big-game jitters brought Stanford's demise. A fly ball lost in the sun by freshman rightfielder Carlos Quentin, who was playing without sunglasses on a bright day, led to a 4-0 Hurricanes lead after three innings. Cardinal junior starter Mike Gosling, who seemed unnerved by the many Miami base runners (for good reason: the Hurricanes led the nation in stolen bases this season with 227), was roughed up for seven runs in four innings. "We didn't do much in the game today," said a shaken Stanford coach Mark Marquess. "They hammered us pretty good." With the victory Miami completed the postseason undefeated, at 9-0.
The day before the championship game, Charlton, who last month graduated with a degree in computer science and last week was drafted again by the Astros, this time in the fifth round, sat quietly in a hotel hallway, waiting for Lanette and Terrance to arrive from Hayward. "When we win, I guarantee Lanette will be happier than I am," Charlton said. "I don't want this for myself. I want this for everyone who helped me, gave me money to get by or a place to stay. Mostly, though, I want to win it for Lanette."