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Jake Westbrook: sinkerball pitcher, steadfast saint

 

Westbrook Family

Indians pitcher Jake Westbrook stands with his son Jacob at Jacob’s Field in Cleveland. Westbrook says his relationship with Christ is crucial in shaping him as a father and husband, not to mention role model for Indians fans.

Cleveland Indians right-hander Jake Westbrook has a menacing sinkerball that has earned him a spot in the pitching rotation of the Cleveland Indians, the baseball team with perhaps the best starting pitching in the American League. Westbrook joins reigning American League Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, and Cumming resident Paul Byrd to round out the formidable quartet of starting pitchers for the Tribe.

After polishing off the New York Yankees in just four games in the American League Division Series last fall, the Indians found it necessary to beat the Boston Red Sox if they were to make it to the World Series. After splitting the first two games in a best-of-seven series Westbrook was called upon to pitch in the third game of the ALDS.

After thumping Boston in a 13-6 win in 11 innings in game 2 Westbrook was matched against Diasuke Matsuzaka of the Red Sox for game 3 at Jacobs Field. Although Boston scored 51 runs in the series the Cleveland pitcher shut out the fearsome Bosox sluggers for 6 innings and got the victory in a game the Indians won by a score of 4-2.

Westbrook explained, “I guess that was my biggest win. There was a lot of emotion pitching in that game before our fans at Jacobs Field. It was very much like the emotion I felt in my major league debut.

“I got in trouble several times, but I got some double plays that really helped us. In the first inning I got David Ortiz to ground out into a double play. In the second inning the bases were loaded with Red Sox, but I got Jason Varitek on a pop-up and then Coco Crisp grounded into a double play. In the sixth inning I got out of another jam by getting Manny Ramirez to hit into a double play. I guess my sinkerball was working fairly well, because I got nine opposing batters to hit into double plays in the playoffs.

The Cleveland newspaper, The Plain Dealer, described Westbrook’s performance against the Red Sox as “courageous.”

Anthony Castronvince of MLB.com wrote, “He didn’t win 19 games this season. No one puts “ace” in front of his name. And when the Cy Young Award voting is announced, you won’t find him anywhere among those getting votes, [but on this night] the Tribe got much more than it could have bargained for from Westbrook. His dipping and diving sinker devastated the potent Red Sox bats … in front of a sellout crowd at Jacobs Field.”

Westbrook played baseball at Madison County High School and was selected in the first round of the draft by the Colorado Rockies in 1996. As he honed his skills and progressed through the minor league system, he was traded to the Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals) in 1998 and to the New York Yankees in 2000.

 

Westbrook Family

Jake Westbrook and his wife, Heather, began dating at Madison County High School and married in 1998. The couple now have two sons, two-year-old Jacob Parker and Keaton Daniels, who turns four months on March 15.

Rough start

His first Major League appearance was with the Yankees. The Georgia native remarked, “The first time I ever entered ‘the House that Ruth built’ was as the starting pitcher for the Yankees. I pitched against the Chicago White Sox, but didn’t make it past the second inning.

“The next day I was called into the game as a relief pitcher and made it through 2 and 1/3 innings. Three days later I started against the Red Sox and didn’t make it through the third inning. So, after six days with the Yankees I was sent to their Columbus minor league team. Not long after that I was traded to the Cleveland Indians.

Westbrook added, “I cracked a rib when I was pitching and was sent home to heal. I really didn’t do anything much after that until spring training in 2001. That year (2001) I kept going back and forth from Cleveland to Buffalo, the Indians AAA minor league team, but in 2002 I became a regular part of the Cleveland pitching staff and just signed a new three year contract with the team.”

Although Westbrook is an athletic 6 foot 3 inches tall, 210-pound 30-year-old Major League baseball player, he is shy, unassuming, and very committed to Jesus Christ.

 

Career, family, faith

Westbrook grew up in a Christian home, but when he was in the ninth grade his older sister, Jill, an excellent tennis player at Madison County High School, invited him to go with her to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting. The gospel was clearly presented and that night when Jake got home, he prayed, confessed that he was a sinner, and asked Christ to come into his heart. He told his parents and soon joined Mt. Harmony Presbyterian Church, where his family was members.

In the midst of his quest to make it to the major leagues the tall, handsome pitcher asked Heather Daniels, his high school sweetheart, to become his bride. Heather, also an athlete, attended Emmanuel College in Royston on a basketball, softball, and academic scholarship. Heather graduated in 3 ½ years with a degree in Kinesiology and they were married on Dec. 12, 1998.

After marrying Heather, Jake made the decision to unite with his wife’s church, Trinity Baptist Church in Danielsville, where Robbie Brown serves a pastor.

Westbrook admits that it is difficult to attend church during baseball season, but is a regular participant in the chapel services conducted every Sunday. “We have 10 to 15 teammates who attend our chapel services each Sunday when we are playing at Jacobs Field; and when we go on the road we just join the home team for their chapel service.

The Indians also have a weekly Bible study, according to Westbrook. Teammate Paul Byrd, who lives in Cumming, leads the Bible study.

The rather reticent Indian pitcher requested prayer, stating, “I realize that as a big league player I have a wonderful platform for sharing my faith, but that is not easy for me to do. I can pitch before 45,000 people, but I get intimidated when I am asked to share my faith before a large group. I desire to be a good witness and guess I just need to trust the Lord to help me know what to say.

“I do know that I want to glorify Him whenever I pitch and in my daily walk.”

The Westbrooks have two sons: Jacob Parker, who was born on Sept. 27, 2005, and Keaton Daniels Westbrook, who was born on Nov. 15, 2007. Westbrook testifies, “I pray with Heather and we get on our knees and pray for our sons when we tuck them in at night. There is a song by Phillips, Craig, and Dean that has meant a lot to me as a dad. I am often reminded of it when I pray for my sons.”

The words to the song are:
“Lord, I want to be just like You
‘Cause he wants to be just like me
I want to be a holy example
For his innocent eyes to see
Help me be a living Bible, Lord
That my little boy can read
I want to be just like You
‘Cause he wants to be like me.”

The Indians finish their pre-season schedule with two games against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field March 28-29. Who knows? Jacob Cauthen “Jake” Westbrook may be taking the mound at Turner Field in one of those games.