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Williams adds veteran presence to Astros
KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) - On a recent day at Astros camp, Hawaiian music was playing in the clubhouse and there was Jerome Williams, proudly wearing a hat showing the flag of his home state.
There have been 38 players in major league history who were born in Hawaii, according to Baseball Reference, though not all of them are Native Hawaiians. Fellow Houston pitcher Scott Feldman was also born in Hawaii, but his parents moved there a couple of years before his birth when his FBI agent father got a job there.
Williams, a 30-something mentor to the young Astros, was born to Hawaiian mother and an African-American father who grew up in Brooklyn and moved to Hawaii in his late teens because of his affinity for the television show “Hawaii Five-0.”
He said people are often surprised when they learn he is Hawaiian.
“Every time I go to a new team or meet new people the first thing they see is the outside,” said Williams, whose Hawaiian accent is noticeable only on certain words. “I tell them I’m from Hawaii and they say: “What, was your dad in the military?’”
In 2013, there were fewer than 10 major leaguers who were born there, notably Boston’s Shane Victorino and Kurt Suzuki, now with Minnesota.
“That fraternity is so tight, we’re always going to be tight-knit,” Williams said. “We always try to support each other. I know every last one of them.”
He also tries to help younger guys who are drafted out from Hawaii because he knows the unique difficulties of adjusting to life away from there.
“It’s tough for kids coming from Hawaii because it’s so isolated from the mainland U.S.,” Williams said. “When we come to the mainland it’s real fast for us. You have to grow up real quick and some kids can’t handle that because in Hawaii it’s so laid back.”
It was a lesson that Williams learned the hard way.
The right-hander was a first-round pick of the Giants in 1999 and he made his major league debut four years later at just 21. He went 17-14 with a 3.93 ERA over the next three seasons. He was then traded and had a solid year with the Cubs before struggling in 2006 and seeing his ERA balloon to 7.30. He signed with the Nationals in 2007 and was released after going 0-5 in six starts.
He was overweight, had developed a reputation as being lazy and couldn’t get another major league gig.
“When I was coming up with the Giants I was a pretty good player, I was a top prospect a couple of years,” he said. “Got to the big leagues at the young age of 21. Then I fell into a mode where I didn’t think anyone could take my spot and I didn’t even work at it.”
“That was the downfall for me,” he said. “I didn’t take advantage of everything and I didn’t do it right.”
He spent the next four years bouncing around in the Independent League, playing winter ball in various countries and even pitching in Taiwan one year. It was a trying time for Williams, who has four children.
By John R. Bolton
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