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Jackie Standley
Joba Chamberlain's mother, Jackie Standley, cheers after Joba tags a runner out at home during a Yankees game against the San Diego Padres. Standley was watching the game at Brewsky's on South Street.

Apartment No. 1 in this brick building is a shrine to Joba Chamberlain.

Baseball jerseys from the Yankees and Huskers hang in a line on the living room wall, like stained-glass windows in a church.

The woman who lives here, Jackie Standley, has taped a USA Today baseball tabloid with Joba's face to another wall. She has hung a 2006 Husker poster with him, frozen mid-pitch, on another wall.

She's pinned an article from a recent Sports Illustrated to a bulletin board:

Joba Chamberlain

Can last year's rookie phenom be this year's ace?

She has altars here to the 22-year-old Yankees pitcher. They hold items she's gathered from trash heaps around Lincoln on her late-night walks.

She walks to clear her head.

She walks to quell the panic attacks, the insomnia, the claustrophobia of this apartment. (That's why she leaves the front door open.)

She walks to keep pushing herself forward, like Joba.

One altar holds a half-full water bottle he once drank from, a rosary, a Yankees cap and a silver cup filled with his favorite brand of sunflower seeds.

Another altar, made of a wicker box on a wooden stool, holds a second Sports Illustrated, open to a story about Joba with two photos - Joba as a shirtless baby, held by his father. And Joba as a father himself, holding his own baby boy.

The caption:

Make the boy FEEL SPECIAL, even though his home is motherless and his family just scrapes by.

"That's crap," she says. "It makes it seem like I just wasn't there, like I had no part of anything."

Jackie is 43. She has brown hair, a small silver hoop on an eyebrow, brown eyes that are slightly bulged. She has round cheeks. She has muscular arms, which rip out carpet and nails and renovate apartments for a brother. She has legs that shake a bit, from medicine and nerves.

She has two cats, Butch and Alley (because she found it in an alley) lying on the floor.

She has two grown children who don't talk to her anymore.

One is Joba Chamberlain.

June 3, 2008

Faces of Jackie's son fill the wall of bigscreen TVs at Brewsky's on South Street. People cheer. Jackie smiles.

They have the same cheeks.

"There he is, with his little hoodie." It's Joba's first start for the Yankees. He stands behind a fence at Yankee Stadium - baseball's cathedral - eating sunflower seeds.

Her heart is beating fast, she says.

The TV screens flash to the face of Joba's father. An announcer says something about him, and Jackie glowers.

Baseball fans have heard the story so many times, she says, that it's become fact - how Harlan Chamberlain raised Joba alone, despite Harlan's polio and health problems. How Harlan watches most every game from a motorized scooter, how (according to that Sports Illustrated story on that altar) Harlan always made sure that Joba ...

... maintains a connection with his mother - whose privacy father and son fiercely protect to this day. Take the boy by her place, let him run to her door for a visit, even if it's just to say hello. ...

She saw that article at her doctor's office, on a table, while waiting to get her depression meds refilled. She brought it home for the altar.

But the stories don't get it right, Jackie says. Joba has a mother, one who was in his life and helped raise him. One who has messed up, at times in a major way.

But one who loves him.

In 2005, the Omaha paper wrote: Mom was never around - still isn't.

In April, this paper didn't get it right, either, she contends. She'd visited the sports editor then - an event that led to this story - after reading a story about how Joba had left New York to be with his dad in Lincoln, who'd been rushed to the hospital in critical condition.

"I'll never take anything for granted," said Chamberlain, who was raised solely by his dad from the age of 3.

At Brewsky's, Jackie sees a family sitting at another table, a grandmother, a mother and her two kids - a girl and a boy. They wear "Chamberlain" shirts.

Jackie walks over.

"Thanks for supporting my son."

"You're Joba's mother?" Erin Dozler asks.

Later that night, Jackie leaves yet another message for her son on his cell phone - Good job tonight.

He doesn't call back.

Shattered mirror

Apartment No. 1 contains other relics:

A "First Haircut Certificate" that declares baby Joba has "bravely met all the requirements of receiving his/her first haircut."

A photo of him, about 8 years old, lying on her couch under a blanket. He was sick that day, she says.

A bunch of ticket stubs to Nebraska games.

She points out a yellow T-shirt on the wall. They worked together at a Ribfest booth a few years ago. A girl came up and asked Joba to sign her shirt, she says, so she asked him to sign hers, too.

I LOVE you! Your son! Joba Chamberlain.

She shows the invitation to the baby shower for Joba's boy, Karter. She's crafted a display of it, flanked by two diapers.

She has a baseball that seems to be shattering a mirror - a gag. It reminds her of how Joba used to shatter windows when they lived across the street from the Good Neighbor Center near 27th and Y. He was always playing baseball.

Sometimes she'd get out her glove and play, too.

The last time she recalls seeing her son was around the time he signed with the Yankees in 2006. He came over for chili. She remembers how his cell phone kept ringing.

She says she knows why her kids don't call.

But she's changed, she says. Someday, maybe they'll understand.

The last time she recalls talking to her son was before Thanksgiving last year, on the phone. She says he told her he wanted to get the family together again, everyone, face to face.

Making her pitch

Harlan is 13 years older than Jackie. He was a family friend close as family. He helped her learn her catechism.

She was 20 when they had Joba. Harlan was at her side for the Cesarean birth. They never married. Joba's birth certificate listed his last name as her maiden name, Heath.

The pregnancy was rough.

Jackie kept losing weight. She had no idea why until she was six months along and the doctor told her she had Graves' disease, a thyroid condition. It bulged her eyes, made her heart race and messed with her mind.

Pregnancy and stress can kick it in.

After treatment, she couldn't remember things like she used to. Her brain, at times, felt foggy. Her emotions went up and down.

She and Harlan stayed together until Joba was about 18 months old. She says she took advantage of Harlan - the minute he'd come home from work, she'd hand the kids over and take off to the bar to party. She wasn't a big drinker. But when Joba was 4 or 5, she says, she started doing pot and meth.

She'd helped raise her three younger brothers, while her mother worked as a nurse. She felt she'd missed out on her childhood. She ran away from home. She was 16 when she gave birth to Joba's sister, who is not Harlan's biological child. Jackie says she got pregnant while in foster care.

Joba lived with her most of the time until he was 10, she says. She and Harlan lived together again after they broke up, as friends, a couple times throughout Joba's childhood.

Then in 1995, when Joba was 10, Jackie decided to give Harlan a Father's Day gift: She had Joba's last name changed to "Chamberlain."

She was about to marry and was going to change her last name. She figured it'd be good for Joba and for Harlan.

She has second thoughts about it now.

She calls Harlan a great father, a good man. (One night around 1991, he came to her rescue, driving to Palmyra to get her and take her away from an abusive boyfriend, driving so fast that he got pulled over.)

But she feels Harlan has let reporters believe a myth.

"Me and my son have had a good relationship. We lived within a mile of each other for his whole life. ... Once I gave him his last name, it's like he took total power. It was like, he starts staying there more. I got to the point where I was not going to fight with him over it. Joba was getting to school, getting good grades. He was doing sports, which is what he wanted.

"I don't know why Harlan is doing all this. I've called, tried to ask him, and he don't want to speak to me, which is weird, because Harlan raised me."

Joba often praises his dad. He told a reporter from this paper in 2005: "He's my stepping stone and building block for everything I've done in my life.

"He's not only my dad, he's my best friend."

Harlan and other family members declined to be quoted in this story. So did Joba's sister. Joba did not return interview requests left with his father and on his cell phone.

The big slump

She had minor brushes with the law. Then in 1998, Jackie's husband, a welder at Cushman, killed himself. (Joba and his sister are listed among survivors in his obituary in this newspaper.) Jackie felt herself slide.

In 2003, when Joba was a senior at Lincoln Northeast, she lost her house and moved back in with her mom.

Jackie has no memory of what happened to her one whole week, in February of that year. She says people told her she visited them, but she doesn't remember. She says she was found with meth and pot in her system, and alcohol, but only remembers the alcohol. She says she apparently drove all over town, ending up at her mom's, where her family found her one cold winter morning in her car.

She was committed to the Regional Center for three weeks. She remembers Joba and Harlan visiting her. "He (Joba) was real positive for me. He was glad I was doing better. He was real supportive. Him and Harlan and my daughter were my main visitors. And my mom."

Jackie thinks her children don't speak to her because of how she behaved in those years.

The only drugs she's taking now are legal, she says, for her brain that keeps racing, for her thyroid, for depression and anxiety.

Stress sets her off. It makes these walls close in, especially at night.

June 27, 2008

Jackie has a new cell phone. It gives her free Internet access for the first 30 days. She phones a reporter.

The first message:

Colleen, this is Jackie Standley. It's almost 6 o'clock in the morning.... I Googled Joba's name, and it states right on there that Harlan and I got a divorce.We've never been married! And that he took custody of Joba at 3 years old. This is bull ... I'm tired of this crap.

The second message, two hours later:

Colleen, Jackie. I need to talk to you asap. I need to talk to you.

Later that day, Apartment No. 1

That story set her off so much that she phoned Harlan to tell him she's been talking to the newspaper. He warned her that a story would cause animosity between her and her kids.

The reporter Googles "Joba Chamberlain," and they figure out together that what she'd read online was a Wikipedia entry, one that got other facts wrong, too.

But then they read other profiles of him from major newspaper sites, and most of them repeat the story that Harlan raised Joba alone.

"My heart is pounding in my chest, dude. I don't need it. This is worse than drugs. This is going to give me a heart attack.

"No. I wasn't the greatest mother. But in the bad choices I made, I in turn made good choices. And one was for them to be with their dad a lot."

She wants them to give her yet another chance.

They're still too young to understand, she says. But maybe in the future, when they're older and have struggled themselves with whatever.

Maybe they'll understand that it's hell to read over and over that your children were motherless.

Another relic

On the altar made out of the wicker box, there rests a faded black Dunlop baseball mitt.

Joba's?

"No," she says. "That's my glove. That's the glove I used when we used to play catch."

She puts it on and looks at it, then lays it back down on this altar.

Reach Colleen Kenney at 473-2655 or ckenney@journalstar.com.

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