Months before Bobby Jenks was standing on the pitcher's mound at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago or Minute Maid Park in Houston, he was succeeding in smaller stadiums in Mobile and West Tenn and Mississippi.
Before the large right-hander brought his intimidating heat to the Major Leagues, Jenks was terrorizing Southern League batters as a member of the Birmingham Barons. Jenks was so effective before he was called up that he was named the MiLB.com Double-A Breakthrough Performer of the Year.
This was the season that Jenks finally harnessed all of his much-heralded raw talent and put it together on the mound.
Jenks had come up through the Angels organization, but had some control issues -- both pitching and personal -- in the Minor Leagues. Jenks was something of a troubled soul for the Angels, a heat-throwing hulking presence unable to make his way to the Major Leagues.
Injuries have also been part of the equation, with stress reaction problems in his right elbow putting him on the disabled list three times in 2003 and 2004. Jenks had surgery to remedy that situation last July and worked to get his velocity back to where it was prior to surgery. Maturity issues that also had caused roadblocks for Jenks seemed to be in the past as well now that he's married and has two children.
The White Sox claimed Jenks off waivers on Dec. 17, 2004. Still only 24 years old, Jenks throws a fastball that has been clocked at 101 mph, and an 86-mph off-speed pitch. He was credited with three saves in the World Series, but he had 19 for Birmingham before he was called up to the big leagues.
"When you throw 100 mph, if you throw strikes, you don't belong playing (at) Double-A," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen told MLB.com after Jenks was called up July 5. "When you throw that hard, you can get away with a lot of things."
Jenks showed a glimpse of the future early in the season, when he had seven saves in seven appearances from April 9-24. He pitched one inning in each of those appearances and gave up a total of three hits. Jenks struck out eight and walked four in that span.
That stretch was part of a longer one that saw Jenks not allow a run in 16 of 17 outings from April 9 to May 18. In addition to his 19 saves, Jenks wound up posting a 1-2 record with 48 strikeouts and 20 walks while allowing 34 hits in 41 innings before his promotion. His time had finally arrived. It wasn't long before he was facing Alex Rodriguez rather than Brandon Sing.
"I can't remember who said it before, but I was told once that when you get over the name on the back of the jersey, you can pitch anywhere. I finally realized what it meant when I got here," Jenks told MLB.com in August. "So, the first couple of hitters after I was called up, I was like 'Cool, I'm facing this guy.' But as soon as I got over that, I was fine again."
It looks like Jenks will be fine for a while.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.