DETROIT -- The Detroit Tigers clubhouse was abuzz. Seated at a table were Andrew Romine and Joakim Soria, deeply engrossed in a game of chess played on a glass base, with frosted pieces. Miguel Cabrera was busy shouting "We've got to win!" at everyone. Ian Kinsler and Rajai Davis, among others, echoed Cabrera's sentiment. And in the back corner, near the lockers of Anibal Sanchez and Soria, was Joba Chamberlain, freshly designated for assignment after a year and a half with the team.
It's not easy to get the news that a team has cut you. To hear the words "Brad (Ausmus) wants to talk to you." This was the first time Chamberlain had ever been in that situation personally, but he'd seen it happen. There was a rough inclination of what to expect. But that didn't make it any easier to hear.
"When they were in there talking to me I kind of blacked out, I had no idea what (Ausmus) was saying, to be honest with you," Chamberlain said, with a broken voice and red eyes, evidence of hearing rough news.
It's one thing when the velocity isn't there. That's frustrating. But that wasn't a problem for Chamberlain this season. His fastball was reaching 95, 96 mph and the "stuff" was fine. But all the stuff in the world doesn't automatically translate into command, and unfortunately it's something that Chamberlain now needs to focus on regaining. Then came decision time. Stay in Detroit, or pack up and go home, work on whatever was wrong.
After the news, Chamberlain sat down with now-former teammate Blaine Hardy to discuss just that. And with the 2015 MLB All-Star Game forthcoming, Chamberlain is left wondering whether he'll be without a job until after the break, or packing up within a short time to a new home, with a new team. For now, the decision on whether to stay in Detroit or go home is still up in the air.
"That's the hardest thing," he said. "I mean, the traveling and everything as where you're going to end up is self explanatory. You sign with whoever it may be, get on a plane, meet them wherever, that's the easy part. It's the stuff in between, trying to figure out where to send your stuff, if you're gonna send stuff home or what you're gonna do. That's been the one that I'm kind of boggled over now."
The events that led to his DFA are simple to understand. One half of a stellar season in the setup role in 2014 doesn't guarantee a spot on any team when the struggles go beyond that of the success. The same can be said for every member of the bullpen if they don't perform. The team, fans, and everyone in between need one thing: to win. While he's just one of two players DFA'd -- Tom Gorzelanny being the other -- the rest of the bullpen hasn't been doing well with rare exception. But that's not always the whole story.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a better person in the clubhouse. The Tigers loved Chamberlain for his presence in it. His teammates fed off of it. And in 2014, the fans adopted and loved his beard. The outgoing, booming personality of Chamberlain isn't something easily replaced, and much like Torii Hunter's invaluable personality, Chamberlain's will be missed.
"I'm just so thankful for this opportunity and the chance to come back, and the chance to win with these guys," he said. "Just to be able to say I was a Tiger for a year and a half was very special.
As difficult as leaving is for Chamberlain, hearing how much of a stand-up guy he was, valued by not just his teammates but the media for his honesty and willingness to talk about anything at any time, was perhaps, exponentially so. And for as long as he was able to keep it together throughout his final interview as a Detroit Tiger, the dam finally burst, the interview ending in tears for Chamberlain. Both in gratitude for his time as a Tiger, but what he considered a wonderful time in Detroit and his experiences with the fans.
The bullpen will hopefully regain some solidarity, become less volatile, and become a force. That's not a given considering its history. And Chamberlain is the first to admit his struggles. In the end, the game of baseball is driven by positive results, and Chamberlain didn't have the results that the Tigers needed.
He may gain his control back. If he passes through and isn't chosen by another team, Chamberlain can opt to stay with the Tigers on a minor league assignment. Either way, one setback is merely a lesson on the way to progress. At least, that's how Chamberlain sees it.
"Just give me the ball every day, I don't care," he said. "I'm never gonna make an excuse. If I was good, I was good. If I was bad, I was bad. That's it. There's no more, no less. This is a game and this game's gonna give you bumps and bruises. At the end of the day it's a game. I'm only gonna be a baseball player for 'this long,' I'm gonna be a person for the rest of my life.
"It allows me to be able to take it with some stride and learn from it and grow. Be a better pitcher for it and be a better person, be a better father, be a better friend, and be a better teammate."