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Yanks' Chamberlain has plenty to be thankful for

Yanks' Chamberlain has plenty to be thankful for

Yanks' Chamberlain has plenty to be thankful for
The wonderful aromas of Thanksgiving, if Joba Chamberlain closes his eyes and concentrates, are still wafting out of his Nebraska kitchen in steamy waves of ham and mashed potatoes with all the trimmings.

It's enough to get the Yankee reliever's appetite rumbling, even standing in New York, more than a thousand miles away from home. But the feeling of Thanksgiving? Especially this year, that's going to be more meaningful than the feast itself.

"My family is healthy and my son [Karter] is growing," Chamberlain said, "and I guess it's probably been the biggest year of growth for me personally as a man. When you get knocked down a lot, it's coming back that's the hard part."

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Chamberlain, 27, can attest to the truth of that statement more than most. While recovering from Tommy John surgery this spring, Chamberlain was impressing the Yankees by beating all estimates on his rehab, sparking hope that he would be back, firing pellets out of the bullpen, early in the season.

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That changed on March 22, when Chamberlain stumbled on a trampoline while playing with his son, suffering a grisly open dislocation of his right ankle. Chamberlain was hurried to a Tampa, Fla., hospital, and in the days that followed, there was a very real possibility that his career might have hung in the balance.

Just a few days before the injury, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman stood in a concrete hallway at the team's spring complex and vowed that it was a matter of when -- not if -- Chamberlain returned to the late innings. Suddenly, nothing seemed certain.

"You've got a lot of down time to think about it," Chamberlain said, "and there were some times where I was beat. I was like, 'I'm not going to come back.'"

It may be surprising to hear that those doubts crept into Chamberlain's mind. In late March, it appeared the wild ride of the phenom setup man with his own 'Joba Rules' and the talk-radio debate of his starting vs. relieving that lasted for years might actually be over.

"You hear it so much, like this article says this, and that article says that," Chamberlain said. "People send it to you and say, 'Let's prove them wrong,' but you read one, then you read another, and you start to think: 'Do they know something I don't know?'"

As Chamberlain proudly proved, all reports suggesting his last innings had been thrown were far from accurate. With his cast and bandages shed aside months later, seven rehab appearances in the Minors were enough to show that Chamberlain still had his stuff.

He once again beat the estimates, jumping back onto Yankees' roster on July 31, hurriedly making the trip to the Bronx from the club's Double-A stadium in Trenton, N.J., and posting a 4.35 ERA in the 22 regular-season appearances that followed.

"I got knocked down. I can't say I was ever out, but I was [darn] close," Chamberlain said. "When you sit on a couch for 23 hours a day, it eats at you a little bit. I had a choice to make. I was either going to lay there and get worse, or I was going to figure it out and come back to prove a lot of people wrong."

Last year, Chamberlain -- who claims Native American heritage from his father, Harlan -- experienced the fast-paced action of the festivities in New York, rolling along the Macy's parade route on the "True Spirit of Thanksgiving" float.

This holiday will be quieter for Chamberlain, who will have time to recall the good moments of Thanksgivings past -- essentially learning to count as a young boy when his father taught him how to play cribbage, or recalling the many delicious meals enjoyed with his sister, Tasha.

"You always want to spend time with your family, but I think it's a little different because everything shuts down for a couple of days," Chamberlain said. "It's just your family and those special moments that you'll remember."

And Chamberlain vows that there will be a strict no-technology rule in place to not distract from the holiday.

"There's no video games. I don't want to see your iPads out," Chamberlain said. "We're not going to be on our phones, we're just going to have time to spend together. Sometimes it takes Thanksgiving to put things all back in perspective."

With that, it will surely present an opportunity for Chamberlain to give his own moment of thanks.

"That's the biggest thing, being thankful for the fact that I'm healthy and my family is healthy," Chamberlain said. "And I still get to do something I love for a living."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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