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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, October 23, 2003

Giants right-hander had memorable rookie season

By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer

San Francisco pitcher Jerome Williams, a Waipahu High grad, wears a puka shell necklace in memory of his late mother.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Fun Facts

Ethnicity: Hawaiian, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, Norwegian, African, Indian, Japanese, Filipino

Pastimes: Shopping. Likes buying replica jerseys. Has Joe Montana and a Pittsburgh Pirates Barry Bonds among the 40-plus in his collection. "I've been to every mall from San Francisco to San Jose to Gilroy," he said.

Favorite visiting ballpark: Bank One Ballpark, Phoenix. He is 2-0 with a 0.63 ERA in two starts there, beating Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling.

Favorite road city: Chicago, for Michigan Avenue shopping.

Most unusual item he has autographed: Krispy Kreme box.

On a sunny Memorial Day in 1999, Jerome Williams pitched in his last organized baseball game as an amateur. On that day, he provided a glimpse into the future.

The then-17-year-old right-hander faced seven batters in two scoreless innings to start the inaugural Sugar Mill Classic senior all-star game at Hans L'Orange Park in Waipahu. He struck out five while allowing one hit.

Two days later, Williams was the 39th overall selection in the draft by the San Francisco Giants.

Four years later, Williams found himself facing some of the game's best hitters as a starting pitcher for the Giants. In his rookie season, he went 7-5 with an 3.30 earned run average in helping San Francisco win the NL West pennant.

The 1999 Waipahu High graduate is living every baseball-playing kid's dream. It was as if his baseball cards came to life. All of a sudden, he was sharing a locker room with the game's most feared hitter in Barry Bonds, veteran outfielder Marquis Grissom, infielder Ray Durham and Cy Young Award-hopeful Jason Schmidt.

"In the beginning, I was real nervous, seeing the guys I've seen on TV," Williams recalled recently. "There's Barry's locker, Marquis' locker, Ray's locker. Jason Schmidt. All these veteran guys. Just being around these guys, the atmosphere, it was a great feeling. They treated me like a kid. That's how they treat rookies, especially for me, being at a young age. They treated me well, but like a kid."

But Williams, who turns 22 on Dec. 4, performed like a veteran. Sure, his big-league debut was rough. He was an emergency starter for Schmidt, who was on a bereavement leave, on April 26 at Philadelphia, where he allowed five runs on five hits and five walks in four innings in a 10-2 loss.

Williams was sent back to Triple-A Fresno, but returned six weeks later, winning his next start, beating the Minnesota Twins, 4-3, on June 4. He allowed three runs on five hits and three walks with six strikeouts in 6á innings. Four starts later, he threw a complete-game shutout against the interleague cross bay rivals Oakland Athletics.

"That was the most memorable feeling for me," he said.

Bonds a big help

Williams had many memories of his rookie season, beginning with Bonds, who saved some of his best batting games for Williams' starts. Bonds hit 10 home runs in nine of Williams' 21 starts.

"Every time when I pitch, he's going to be on top of his game," Williams said. "He's helped me a lot."

Bonds had been friendly with Williams since spring training. At the time, Williams had some back problems and was in the training room when Bonds stopped by.

"He was the first one to tell me, 'I don't ever want to see you in the training room again because you're 21 and you're not supposed to be getting hurt,' " Williams recalled. "After that, he was talking to me almost every time. He talks to me about baseball, tells me about my financial situation."

On Oct. 4, Williams was the starting pitcher for Game 4 of the NL Divisional Series against the eventual NL champion Florida Marlins. Again, he started in place of Schmidt, who indicated he could not pitch on three days rest. Williams allowed three runs, lasting only two innings.

"It was the most exciting feeling I've had in my life," he said. "As a young kid growing up, you always want to get into postseason play or try to be on a major league team."

Beats the best

During the regular season, Williams beat Arizona Diamondbacks aces Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix. But what Williams remembers is facing the 6-foot-10 left-handed Johnson, who throws one of the most feared fastballs in the game.

"Just to stand in the box, facing him, is pretty scary," Williams said, shaking his head. "My first at-bat, he threw me a 97 mile an hour fastball. It's the fastest I've ever seen. Second at-bat, struck out again. Third at-bat, I actually foul tipped the ball, so I was happy. It's real frightening, but it's fun."

Not all of his favorite memories were game-related.

Jerome Williams went 7-5 with a 3.30 ERA in helping the San Francisco Giants win the NL West pennant.

Advertiser library photo

In the major leagues, rookies get hazed. Williams, fellow pitchers Jesse Foppert and Kevin Correia, and outfielder Todd Linden were the victims on a road trip between Colorado and Arizona in late August. After the Rockies series, the veterans cleared the four players' lockers of their clothes, except for a set of a restaurant's attire.

"We wore the Hooters outfits from the clubhouse in Colorado, got on the bus, went through the whole terminal in Denver, went on the plane, got off the plane in Arizona, got on the bus, walked through the whole hotel, where all the players' wives were, until we got upstairs," Williams said laughing. "It was very uncomfortable, but we just had to do it. I was pretty happy because there were the other guys, too."

Puka shell controversy

There was one unfortunate moment for Williams at Cincinnati on Aug. 1. Williams wears a puka shell necklace during his starts in memory of his mother, Deborah Williams, who died of cancer at the age of 47 on March 17, 2001. The Reds had umpires ask Williams to remove the necklace because it was a distraction, even though it does not hang out of his shirt or create a reflection, like jewelry.

"It was a big deal for me," Williams said. "Everybody knows it's for the memory of my mother. I was pretty upset about it. It didn't rattle me or anything, but in my heart and in my mind, why do you want me to take off something that's white?"

Williams allowed two runs in seven innings while getting a no-decision in a 5-3 loss to the Reds.

Weighty issue

 •  Jerome Lee Williams

Age: 21 (Birthday: Dec. 4, 1981)

High school: Waipahu (Class of '99)

Honors: 1999 Advertiser Player of the Year

Draft: 39th overall pick by San Francisco in 1999. Some pitchers drafted before him include Florida's Josh Beckett (2nd overall), Oakland's Barry Zito (9th), Milwaukee's Ben Sheets (10th), Philadelphia's Brett Myers (12th), and Colorado's Jason Jennings (16th).

One issue he still has to deal with is his weight. Ideally, the 6-foot-3, 240-pounder would like to weigh 210. What did not help the once lanky Williams, who is listed at 180 pounds in the team's media guide, was that the Bay Area has a lot of restaurants with his favorite Hawai'i meals.

"When I got to San Francisco, there's an L & L Drive-Inn (near where I lived)," he said. "There's a lot of local places up there. You tend to go back to our local habits. There's a lot of laulau and kalua pig, katsu and all that. Once you eat that, you're done."

He plans to work out here until January, when he goes to Fresno, where his girlfriend, Sarah Yanes, has family. (They met when she got to throw out the first pitch at a Fresno Grizzlies game in 2002 as part of a team promotion, which was a birthday present from her mother.) He then will go to Arizona for spring training.

Williams knows he must shed that weight. "We're cooking more at home now," he said.

He added that despite his success, landing a spot on the 25-man roster next season is no guarantee.

"Even though I've pitched very well, it's still up in the air," Williams said. "They have rumors already about wanting to put Joe Nathan back into the rotation. So I just have to work hard in spring training to keep that spot."

The spot that was just a pipe dream on Memorial Day in 1999.

Reach Stacy Kaneshiro at skaneshiro@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8042.