November 05, 2009
NEW YORK — The throng of media members around the makeshift stage seemed impenetrable, but Harlan Chamberlain motored his way through all of the cameras and notepads anyway. Reaching a blue barrier, he stopped his scooter, strained to look over a crowd of world champion Yankee ballplayers and tried to get a glimpse of his son. When that proved useless, he simply resorted to his considerable vocal chords.
"Burnett!" he said. "Can you get my son!"
Burnett could and a few moments later, Joba Chamberlain(notes) put down the giant blue Yankee flag he had been waving up on stage. The big Yankees pitcher hopped off the stage, disappeared from the view of the Fox cameras and quickly made a beeline for his father. When they came together, they wrapped each other in a huge rocking bearhug.
It wasn't long before both were crying.
They said the same thing over and over.
"We did it, dad," Joba said.
"We did it," Harlan said.
"We did it," Joba said.
"We did it," Harlan said.
And on and on. They held tight for almost a minute. Their eyes were red when they let go.
You see the Yankees' $200+ million payroll and it's easy to get cynical. Same goes for their $1.5 billion new stadium, the seats that cost more than the average mortgage payment, the steroid controversies involving some of their team members and all the endless hype and hooey about mystique, aura and all the Yankee legends and ghosts.
But then you see this very simple and very real scene of a 24-year-old pitcher sharing the hug of a lifetime with his dad and you remember that those father-son relationships — one of the only things that really matter — are at the very heart of this great game that we love.
The same dynamic was on display everywhere at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night. Way up in the upper deck, a dad tossed his little son into the air whenever Hideki Matsui(notes) came through (which was often). A mid-20s hipster sitting next to them made sure to ask one of my co-workers to snap a photo of him and his pops with his grainy cell phone camera. CC Sabathia(notes) did his postgame interviews with his little son on his shoulders the whole time.
And while all of those tiny little snapshots meant the world to those pictured in them, none of them seemed quite as remarkable to outsiders as the one taken by the Chamberlains.
Their story has been told often since Joba became a pitcher with the Yankees. Harlan was stricken with polio as a child and his health problems have confined him to the trademark scooter that gets him recognized by Yankee fans everywhere. Despite his limitations, he raised both Joba and his sister in Nebraska and provided for them while working in a prison. The sad story of Joba's mother is sadly well-known — she's facing 20 years in jail for a drug charge — but he's always had the love and support from an extraordinary father. They call each other their best friends. It's impossible for them to be any closer.
I caught up with Harlan later on Wednesday night and asked him what it was like to see his son pitch a scoreless inning in a World Series clincher. Then I asked him what it was like to have the hug on the field with him afterward. His eyes were still teary as he talked.
"I told my son for years that he would do this, we would talk about getting to the World Series all the time" said Harlan while stopped near home plate of Yankee Stadium. "We just shared that moment while realizing that he did it. I pinched myself a few times. It's pretty awesome.
"We love each very much. This whole adventure in life is about family and in our case, it's about father and son."
In the days ahead, we're sure to see a lot of scenes from the Yankees 27th championship. Some we'll be bound to remember. Some we'll be bound to forget.
It's not hard to tell which category the Chamberlains' special moment will fall under, because it rarely gets much better than that
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