Detroit — As Joba Chamberlain walked into the clubhouse Sunday morning, Al Alburquerque gave him a little preview of the reaction he may get from the fans when he returns to Yankee Stadium this week.
Chamberlain spent his first seven seasons with the Yankees. This will be the first time he’s walked onto that field without pinstripes.
“I don’t even know where the visitor’s clubhouse is, so that’s going to be weird,” he said. “I know the feelings I have now, but I don’t know the feelings I am going to have when it comes to getting on the field.”
Chamberlain was 21 when he made his major league debut with the Yankees in 2007 and he helped them win the World Series in 2009. By the end of last year, his production and effectiveness had waned — as did his popularity with the fan base.
Through it all, though, his emotional attachment to the city and the team remains as strong as ever.
“Change isn’t always the easiest thing, but sometimes it’s for the best,” he said. “They saw me grow up. They saw my son grow up. I’ve been in a million situations on a baseball field with them. The baseball side of things sometimes is a little easier than the relationship side of things. Those people watched me grow up, they’ve been through it all with me. We won a World Series together. That’s the hardest part just trying to get over that.”
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus talked before the game about the difficulties of trying to mature as a professional athlete under the bright lights of New York, but Chamberlain said that wasn’t what made him grow up fast.
“Having a son as a junior in college makes you grow up a lot faster than playing in New York City,” he said with a chuckle. But he did get Ausmus’ point.
“There’s just so much,” he said. ‘It’s zero to 60, like the song says, in 5.2. I have so much to be thankful for. I never could have imagined in my wildest dreams that in 2007 I would have had the year I had. And in New York, there is no bigger place to have a year like that. So I am grateful for that. You only get one first impression in the major leagues and mine wasn’t so bad.
“New York City is a special place and it will always have a special place in my heart.”
Chamberlain doesn’t know how the fans will react when he is introduced into a game, whether they will honor him for the good years or berate him for the down years.
“I gave them everything I had every time I went out there,” he said. “I know it’s frustrating at times when guys aren’t doing good. There are times I did terrible and times I did really good. So I honestly don’t know what to expect.
“But I tried to be as good to the fans as I could, signing autographs and all of that.”
By the end, though, the fans were on him pretty good. He ruffled some organizational feathers, too, with his outspoken dislike of the team’s mandate against facial hair of any kind. He will walk into Yankee Stadium Monday with a beard long, wild and unruly enough to make the Duck Dynasty boys envious.
“They’re going to love this,” he joked.
There is one thing that will make his return to New York complete, one thing that he has dreamed about — getting to face Derek Jeter.
“I have faced guys who are really good, but I would really like a chance to face him,” Chamberlain said. “Not only being his teammate and also being his friend, but because he’s been out of the greatest players ever to play this game.
“I would love to have that one at-bat just to get the head nod that I’ve seen for so long. And if he’s going to head-nod me, I’m sticking my tongue out. I am looking forward to that.”