Jermaine Van Buren, MiLB.com's Relief Pitcher of the Year, always likes to lend a helping hand.
"When I come in and shut the door, that's a great feeling," the 25-year-old righty said. "Helping out my teammates is what I enjoy the most about my job."
Van Buren shut plenty of doors with the Iowa Cubs in 2005, recording a franchise-record 25 saves and a 1.98 ERA while striking out 65 batters over 54 2/3 innings pitched. He was selected to play in the midseason Triple-A All-Star Game, and was named to the Pacific Coast League's postseason All-Star team. His dominating 2005 with Iowa was one of the highlights of his career so far.
"The whole experience was awesome," he said. "(Pitching coach) Rick Kranitz was always in my ear, teaching me how to pitch. Mentally I have to get better, but I had a nice slider, curveball, everything was really on."
So on, in fact, that Van Buren didn't even finish out the season with Iowa. At the end of August, he received a call-up to "The Show."
"I was on my way back to the hotel after a game, and manager Mike Quade called me back to the field. He said 'Hey, you got the call'," he recalled. "I hugged him and hugged Kranitz. I just couldn't believe it. It was awesome to get a taste of what I've been working so hard for."
In six appearances with the Chicago Cubs, Van Buren went 0-2 with an ERA of 3.00. Not bad for a player who just two seasons ago was pitching for Fort Worth of the Independent Leagues after being released by the Colorado Rockies organization at age 22.
"That was a big lift, playing in the Independent Leagues," Van Buren said. "It was a just a bunch of guys who wanted to play baseball. The focus was on me and my pitching, not on advancing to the next level."
While playing with Fort Worth, Van Buren caught the attention of the Cubs. The organization converted him from a starter to a reliever, and in 2004, he quickly moved up the Minor League ranks, ending the season with Iowa. That set the stage for his magical 2005 campaign.
But Van Buren isn't taking anything for granted in 2006. "I approach each new season the same way", he said, "with a chip on my shoulder. I need to earn my way, get respect, and prove to myself I can compete."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.