(Busch Stadium) Besides the long-toss, bunting, and other usual pregame activities, St. Louis Cardinals reliever Jerome Williams has another part of his routine–playing catch with a young fan in the seats.
“Yeah, I try and do it every time,” said Williams. “I just want to make the kids happy. They come out here, they watch us play–we’re role models to them. It’s the least I can do is try and make their day playing catch with a big league guy.”
“It started when I was small,” he shared. “They had a couple games out in Hawaii–actually, it was San Diego versus St. Louis. We had guys, big name guys when I was growing up and I was out there and asked Tony Gwynn for an autograph and he kind of blew me off. A couple of other guys blew me off and I told myself from that day on if I was ever in that position, I’m not gonna make a kid feel how I felt that day. So, I try and take the time out to do it, make his day and it makes me happy too.”
Acknowledging that was probably a rare bad day for Gwynn, Williams actually got to know the Hall of Famer years later.
“I talked to him my rookie year–just an amazing, amazing human being,” said Williams. “Just how he went about his business, how he played the game. He was a great human being. I played against his son, played with his son too. We talked about it a lot.”
And just as making a difference for young fans is important to him, just being back in the big leagues is also big for Jerome Williams.
“It means a lot,” he stated. “Last year, I had a rough year with Philly and this year, obviously, it was unfortunate that I got hurt in the off-season and had Achilles surgery in January. It’s been a long road. Trying to come back to the level where I know I can compete with, just hard work. Especially with my story from before, just hard working. I’m never gonna stop.”
That story includes battling back from a rotator cuff injury and going four years in the middle of his career before he was able to return to a Major League roster.
Having a new teammate in Adam Wainwright who shares a similar Achilles recovery has allowed the two to trade notes.
“The first thing we both said is we’re quick healers,” said Williams. “His was four and a half, five months and mine was four and a half, five months. We’re out here competing right now, it goes to show how we go about our business and how we really want to be part of this unit of Major League baseball players.”
But while much of their rehab from the injury was similar, the casting and early throwing was not the same.
“I was kind of different because when I did my surgery, I was in the soft case for a week and then went to a hard boot,” explained Williams. “While in the hard boot for six weeks, I was throwing still. I think it made might right leg a little bit stronger since I was only concentrating on my arm, but I had to be balanced on my right side.”
A first round draft pick of San Francisco in 1999, Williams has appeared in three games with St. Louis since his contract was purchased on July 25th.
“If I’m pitching in a game and I’m on my game, every pitch is working from the curve ball to the cutter to the sinker to the slider,” he explained. “I joke around that I’ve got 16 pitches, but I can put five pitches in three spots. That’s my game. If I can do that, I know I’m on my game.”
A native of Hawaii, he no longer wears the Puka shell necklace, but Williams does use a pink glove–both to honor his mother, Deborah, who lost her fight with breast cancer in 2001.
photo credit: Bill Greenblatt/UPI
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