In Joba's heart, Dad rules
Yankees pitcher inspired by father's positive attitude
NEW YORK -- Joba Chamberlain and his father, Harlan, were extraordinarily close even during the difficult years of high school, when the future New York Yankees right-hander would take razzing from his friends for the amount of time he spent hanging out with his dad.
They bonded over sports, they bonded over music. Most importantly, they bonded, period.
It's a relationship that continues to this day, as Joba continues to call Harlan his best friend. They speak at least once daily by phone and reunite whenever the Yankees travel to the Midwest.
Diagnosed with polio as a child, Harlan raised Joba and his sister, Tasha, while being confined to a motorized scooter and experiencing a litany of health problems. One of Joba's most enduring memories of looking to his father as a role model came on the streets of Lincoln, Neb., where Harlan -- a retired prison counselor -- would often run into former inmates.
Instead of averting their eyes and ignoring Harlan, the words that almost always spilled out were, "Thank you."
"People look at him different because of the way he is, but he always treated them the way that he wants to be treated," Joba said. "The biggest thing for him was at work. He realized that even though they were in prison, you've still got to treat them as human beings and give them respect."
If there were any lessons that Harlan hoped his children would take from him, he said, it would be to learn from your mistakes and always to be good to people, because it will eventually pay you back many times over. As Joba has progressed from a standout University of Nebraska pitcher to a big league phenom, he has taken those words to heart.
"He was by no means a perfect kid," Harlan said. "We had bumps and bruises growing up, and we locked heads every once in a while, but in the end, he was better for it and I was better for it. There's no book written about being a father. You've got to go by hook and crook, and go from the gut and the heart. If you go from the heart, you're never going to be wrong.
"It's not as tough as people think. What I tell people when I talk to them is to enjoy your kids while you've got them. Spend as much time with them as you can, because you only have them for a short time, and don't be afraid to tell your kid no. He or she may not like you right then, but they're always going to love you unconditionally."
Despite Harlan's continuing health problems -- he was hospitalized earlier this year in Lincoln for respiratory failure brought on by pneumonia -- Joba said that his dad continues to hold an inspirationally bright outlook on life.
"There's not a day where he's not smiling, and there's not a day when he's not having fun and enjoying people. He's always making other people smile too. The goal I have in life is to make somebody smile every day. It's the way it has always been, because he's happy and he's never complained."
It took until the summer between Joba's freshman and sophomore years at Nebraska for Harlan to realize that his son actually did have a chance to play professionally, but the idea of pitching in the big leagues was always a running theme in the Chamberlain home. So was what Harlan calls "tough love."
"We had always said, tongue-in-cheek, 'You know, you're going to play in the Majors someday,'" said Harlan. "It was just exposing him to the right scenarios and giving him good positive reinforcement. I wasn't hesitant to chew his behind when it needed to be chewed, and that was just part of being a father."
Every time Joba steps onto the field for the Yankees, be it as a starting pitcher or a relief pitcher, he understands that he wouldn't be there without his father's influence. Even today, just like in high school, Joba and Harlan are still linked with every step.
"How could a father be any prouder?" Harlan said. "I'm living millions of fathers' dreams, and he's living millions of children's dreams. It just goes to show you what a lot of hard work and luck will do. It never stops to be a blessing."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.