Williams: A Fresh Start With Nats

Bob Hogue
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Wednesday - February 14, 2007
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Williams, with the Giants in 2003, will take his puka shells to D.C.
Williams, with the Giants in 2003, will take his
puka shells to D.C.

Four years ago, Jerome Williams was the toast of baseball. At the tender age of 21, the former Waipahu star had experienced a meteoric rise from the ball fields of the Ewa plain to the Major League stadiums on the Mainland.

When Williams was called up by the San Francisco Giants in April of 2003, he became the youngest Giants starting pitcher ever.

“Growing up in Hawaii, that was my dream, to play in the Major Leagues,” Williams remembers. “Being in ‘the Show’ is such an experience that you can’t explain it.”

But after two and a half seasons with the Giants and a season and a half with the Chicago Cubs, Williams may be facing a turning point in his young career. He’s only 25, but he’s ready to join his third Major League team this month when he reports to spring training with the Washington Nationals in Melbourne, Fla., this week.

“It’s a good move for me,” Williams says. “I have a chance to break into the (starting) rotation. There are 11 guys fighting for four spots.”

Williams knows that the pressure is on. He wants to return to the form that saw him win seven games in 2003 and a career high 10 games in 2004, both with the Giants. He struggled at the beginning of the 2005 season and with the Giants, according to Bay Area media reports, tiring of their young pitcher not following their training advice, traded him to the Cubs, with whom he suffered his first losing season, 6-8, but still had a respectable ERA of 3.91.

Then came 2006, and disaster really struck.

“It was very frustrating for me,” he recalls. “The Cubs sent me down (to the minors) and I spent the whole year trying to make my way back up.”

Williams blames part of his struggles the past two seasons on worrying about his father Willie back home in Hawaii.

“He had a liver and kidney transplant and I left spring training to see him,” Williams says. “(By the time I returned), I wasn’t in the right frame of mind.”

It took awhile, but Williams’ father recovered.

“He came to see me play. It turned out to be one of the best games I ever pitched,” Williams says. “It was very inspiring. I always want to keep my father proud. He’s the man who taught me how to play baseball.”

And Williams’ father taught his son well.

Now the younger Williams has a family of his own. Jerome and his wife Sarah live in Fresno, Calif., with their two young children, daughter Alana, 2, and baby Keilani, who was born this past November.

But Williams must leave the family home to head to the East Coast.

“I’ve been working out at Fresno City College and I’m in good shape,” he says.

The 6-foot-3-inch 240-pound righthander says he’s been clocked at up to 94 mph. “I’m consistently around 92,” he says.

Williams is confident that his fast ball and his bullish strength will carry him into the starting rotation in Washington, D.C., on opening day in April.

“I’ve actually never played there before,” he says. But he says he has been to the nation’s Capitol as a baseball star.

“It was back in 2002, and I went there with a rookie development program. We got a chance to visit the White House and the Congress. It was a real thrill,” he says.

Williams is hoping for more Major League thrills this spring and summer. “I’m prepared to work my butt off,” he says.

And he’ll bring a little bit of the Islands with him every time he pitches when he wears his trademark puka shells on the mound. “I’m planning to wear them every time,” he says.

From Waipahu High School to Washington, D.C., Jerome Williams is ready to make his move in the big time.

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