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[ MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL ]
Plus, usually there's just one ball, one pitcher, one catcher.
Last week, though, as the San Francisco Giants prepared to play the Houston Astros in a game heavy with playoff implications, there were 12 balls spread out in front of the pitcher's mound at SBC Park. It was a feel-good moment and hundreds of cameras flashed as a dozen female Olympic medal winners from the Bay Area -- members of the U.S. soccer and water polo teams, and swimmer Natalie Coughlin -- picked up balls, wound up all at the same time, and chucked opening pitches.
It was feel-good for everybody except one of the designated catchers, Waipahu's Jerome Williams. Just two days earlier, Williams had thrown 87 pitches in an Arizona Instructional League game, his first action since coming out of a game on July 30 with a sore right (pitching) elbow and soon after undergoing surgery.
"I don't know who was supposed to be throwing to me, but all of a sudden I see three balls coming at me, and I'm moving," Williams would say the next day during a pregame interview in the Giants dugout. "All I could think of was, 'I don't want to go back on the disabled list again.'"
Williams ducked, dodged and danced -- smiling the bright smile that has made him a fan favorite -- and came away unbruised.
Having survived that high-and-hard, low-and-inside, sink-darter-away encounter with a bunch of athletic women who can bring it a little, Williams has been named the starter for the Giants' game at San Diego tomorrow. In the fourth to last game of the regular season, playoff implications will be palpably heavy for both teams.
"I'm ready," Williams says of his return. "I'm healthy again. The arm feels good, strong. Down in Arizona, I was locating my pitches and had good control."
JEROME WILLIAMS has done everything fast in his baseball life. Drafted out of Waipahu High at 17, he turned pro and reached the big leagues last year at 21, a year before Giants brass expected to be issuing him a number (57).
He impressed often and early, made puka shells a hip fashion statement in San Francisco, finished the year 7-5 and became the first rookie to start a playoff game for the Giants since they played home games in New York.
The disabled list also came early.
He was 9-8 this year, second on the team in wins, when he had to leave a game after throwing two pitches to the St. Louis Cardinals' Edgar Renteria.
"I threw a slider and felt something pop," Williams said. "But I knew something was wrong already when my fast ball (usually registering up to 90-91 mph) was topping out at 84."
On Aug. 4, the day before his daughter Alana was born, he underwent arthroscopic surgery in which Dr. Ken Akizuki removed six bone chips and shaved down a bone spur.
On that pitch, one of the chips had become lodged in Williams' right elbow joint.
As Giants trainer Stan Conte described the injury to MLB.com: "It's like a popcorn kernel gets caught in your teeth -- it hurts a lot."
"This was my first time on the DL, my first injury ever," Williams said. "It was tough, man, especially when some of our guys were struggling. I wanted to help, but I couldn't. It eats you up inside."
He used almost two months of bench time to work the rest of his body and drop weight he put on during a rather glorious off-season.
"He's said it was hard when he came home to Hawaii," said Henry Schulman, who covers the Giants for the San Francisco Chronicle. "Everywhere he went people wanted to buy him a meal, and he had a hard time saying no."
Williams, who is listed on the Giants' Web site at 6-foot-2, 221 pounds, reported for spring training at 260. He says he was at 245 when he was injured and today bumps the scales at 238.
It's an athletic 238, as he shows shagging fly balls in the outfield during batting practice. The goal is 235.
"I realized what I had to do," he said. "I want to get my weight down so I can pitch better. When you're injured, it's a great time to work out and stay strong. I even have a nutritionist now helping me eat good, healthy food."
The toughest thing he's had to give up, he says, is white rice:
"You know us local boys, how we love our rice. ..."
Mike Krukow, former Giants pitcher and long-time broadcaster, says Williams "worked his (butt) off when he was out. And he has to. He's only 22, he's going to get bigger and thicker."
"The test is going to be if he can stay in shape to have the kind of career I think he can have," said Krukow. "He has the potential to win 20 games, throw 225 innings. That's what clubs pay big money for, the same way they pay for power hitting."
Giants manager Felipe Alou agrees that Williams has a big upside if he keeps his back side down.
"The first time I saw him pitch last year in spring training, which was the first time I ever saw him, I saw somebody who can really pitch," Alou said. "And he's a very smart pitcher.
"This was the year he was gonna win 15 for us. It's too bad for him that he was injured and had to sit out, too bad for us. We need him to come back."
Giants pitchers have gone down like gophers in an arcade bop-it game this season, and the team does indeed need Williams to pitch well in his return.
It is equally important to stay healthy.
Ultimately that will mean changing his delivery.
"He has to change his mechanics," Schulman said. "He's been throwing across his body. It's what got him here, but over time it causes injuries. He has to get more on top. I think the Giants have put the fear of God in him about that.
"But this (injury) could be good for him. Often when young pitchers are hurt, they come back stronger."
"When you're on the disabled list," Krukow said, "you learn how much you miss it. Jerome is kind of young to be having surgery, but it could be a good thing in the long run."
"I know, they've been telling me I have to get on top of the ball," Williams says. "Before I was like I was when my dad told me something as a kid -- I know, I know. I used to get kind of P.O.'d. Now I do know. I have to listen better to guys like (veteran pitchers) Jason Schmidt and Dave Burba."
WHEN IT COMES TO his history-making teammate Barry Bonds, Williams admits to being "a total fan."
"Like everybody else, I stop and watch when he's hitting," Williams said.
The one piece of advice he received from Bonds, 18 years Williams' elder, he said when featured on MidWeek's cover a year ago was to "take care of your money."
He also mentioned that he was regular patron of an L&L Drive-in in Daly City, delighting in island cuisine far from home.
Following that story, L&L co-founder Eddie Flores contacted Williams.
Today, the pitcher is a co-owner of a new L&L in Union City.
"I'm not going to blow my money," he said. "Like Barry says, you have to watch your money."
That day, news of former NBA star Manute Bol being destitute and critically injured broke in Bay Area newspapers.
"That's sad," Williams said. "It's a lesson. You have to know how to manage your money. You have to know what's going on with your money."
As for the new restaurant:
"It's doing pretty well. We're going to have a grand opening in a few weeks. Fiji is going to play, plus a band that one of my high school friends, Keoni Angel, plays in over here."
He's hoping the grand opening will be after he helps the Giants in a grand run through the playoffs and the World Series.
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