Sunday, June 18, 2017

Charlton Jimerson's 'Against All Odds' is a major league triumph

Charlton Jimerson’s baseball career was never supposed to happen. Growing up in a volatile home hindered by a broken marriage and his mother’s rampant drug use, Jimerson was behind in the count before he ever took the field.

Charlton Jimerson
His 6’3”, 210 lb., frame was tailor made for baseball stardom, but well beneath the surface were scars built from a tumultuous childhood. In his autobiography, “Against All Odds,” Jimerson describes how he was ultimately fortified by his rough upbringing.

Growing up in the Bay Area, Jimerson’s parents split up early on, starting a carousel of residences (including foster care) that were fueled by his mother’s crack cocaine usage. He didn’t have the opportunity to play Little League baseball until moving in with a friend’s family at the age of 12.
“My mother would not envision sacrificing $40 for me to play Little League baseball when she could use that money to buy crack,” Jimerson said.
Getting a late start in the sport put Jimerson farther behind baseball’s learning curve. While most of his peers were getting ready to age out of Little League, he was just beginning to learn the finer points of the game.

“I wasn’t like the other kids who had played tee ball at five years old and continued to play each year thereafter,” he said. “They had an early jump on learning both the mechanics of baseball and how to deal with their emotions. As for me, I was just getting my feet wet at age 12.”

As Jimerson approached high school he could not escape the volatility of his family life. When he started high school he moved in with his older brother, but that relationship soured by his sophomore year. He changed high schools and moved in with his older sister who provided some much needed stability for him to navigate his high school career.

He excelled at Mount Eden High School, starring for their basketball and baseball teams, yet by the start of his senior year, no local colleges showed interest in Jimerson as a baseball prospect. He left the team his junior year due to differences with his coach, and his senior year was tarnished by a suspension stemming from an altercation at a rival school. Despite these obstacles, the Houston Astros saw enough talent to take him as a “draft and follow,” pick in the 24th round of the 1997 MLB Draft.

Despite his draft status, Jimerson signed on to the University of Miami as a walk-on in 1997. Entering a nationally ranked powerhouse, Jimerson was surrounded by a team of pedigreed baseball players. It was like he was back again as the 12-year-old starting Little League, only this time; he had the necessary tools to make an impression on Hurricanes coach Jim Morris.

While he boasted tremendous speed and power, he struggled to cut down on his strikeouts enough to crack the Miami lineup. For three years, he was used primarily as a late-inning replacement and pinch hitter. As he entered his senior year, Jimerson remained determined to breakthrough. His patience was rewarded when one of the team’s outfielders suffered an injury, clearing a spot for Jimerson to start. He busted through the opening, batting .302 with 10 home runs his senior year, en route to leading the Hurricanes to a National Championship. For his efforts, he was named the 2001 Most Outstanding Player Award for the College World Series.

The Astros renewed their interest in their former draft pick, selecting him in the fifth round of the 2001 draft. After enduring a harsh childhood and a slow start to his collegiate career, Jimerson finally could call himself a professional ballplayer.

Like all new players in the minor leagues, Jimerson had to make a series of adjustments both on and off the field to stay in the game. No longer could he get by waiting for a pitcher to miss with a fastball, or using his speed to make up for a poor route in the outfield. He had to put in the extra work necessary to cover his weaknesses and stay ahead of the competition. Additionally, he had to control his distractions away from the ballpark; something that he admits hindered his growth as a ballplayer.

“I would never understand the consequences of my partying habits until after I retired,” he said. “My infatuation with women, alcohol, and nightclubs continued to hinder my performance on the field throughout my entire baseball career.”

While Jimerson struck out at an alarming rate (once in less than every three at-bats), the Houston brass continued to move him up the ladder, as he sent balls screaming out of the park, stole bases, and made highlight catches in the outfield.

In 2005, he was finally vindicated when the Astros called him up to fortify their bench during their World Series run. Even though he only played one inning as a defensive replacement during his time on the club, Charlton Jimerson had arrived as a major league baseball player. Now that he had a taste of the experience, he was hungry for more.

He dutifully finished another season at Triple-A in 2006, and once again the Astros rewarded him with a September call-up. This time he wanted to prove that he could not only be an asset on defense, but have value for his skills at the plate. On Labor Day, the Astros squared off against the Philadelphia Phillies in a heated pitcher’s duel between Roger Clemens and Cole Hamels at Citizen’s Bank Park. After five innings, Hamels was halfway to pitching a perfect game. Clemens did his best to match Hamels’ efforts, yielding only one run in the process. As Clemens walked off the mound at the end of the fifth, he tweaked a muscle in his groin, causing Astros manager Phil Garner to summon Jimerson from the bench to pinch-hit. With two outs in the sixth inning, he approached home plate for his first big league at-bat.
“I felt like Mike Tyson on his way into the ring before a heavyweight title bout,” he said. “My walk was slow and calculated, with a hint of confidence in each stride. I don’t know if I was prepared for the moment, but I had definitely been through enough in my life to handle the moment. My childhood had taught me how to maneuver in the midst of pressure situations.”
What happened next during Jimerson’s showdown with Hamels was of the highest cinematic drama. With the count 2-1, Hamels unleashed a change-up that ran right into Jimerson’s wheelhouse. A loud crack and a few hundred feet later, Jimerson made his way into baseball’s record books, hitting a home run in his first major league at-bat, spoiling Hamels’ perfect game.

As he returned to the dugout amidst congratulations from his teammates, he realized that his moment in the sun went beyond his impact on the box score. It was the reward for navigating a life full of obstacles that would have swallowed most in its path.

* - This was originally published April 10, 2015 for


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