This year’s World Series was one of the most exciting in years and many sports commentators and reporters have said that Game Six was one of the best World Series games ever. The dramatic win of that game by the St. Louis Cardinals was due in part to the performance of Jake Westbrook, the winning pitcher for the game. Jake’s performance and his major league career had their start in his days growing up and playing youth sports right here in Madison County, where his family still lives. I had the privilege of sitting down with Jake and Dr. Allen McCannon, his former high school basketball and football coach who is now the superintendent of Madison County Schools.
GL – At what age did you start playing sports?
JW – As soon as there were organized sports available, I played football, baseball and basketball through high school. My motivation was to be like my dad; he played all three sports at UGA. No matter what season, I was playing a sport. We had a big family with lots of cousins. We were all competitive and we all lived in Madison County.
GL – Did you find playing multiple sports helped?
JW – Staying more active and constantly being a part of a team, getting to know different people because of the different sports and then learning different athletic skills, was always a great help in all aspects of life. It was a good time for me, and with football along with fall baseball, it was a very busy time, too. I learned over the course of my career that the more you play the better you are going to become. And as multiple sports go, you become better in the other sports by perfecting skills in all sports.
GL – Were there other sports you tried?
JW – I would have loved to have tried tennis. My sister and dad played tennis but it was always during baseball season, so it just never worked out for me.
GL – In what other ways do you think sports impacted your life?
JW – Sports gave me something to do, kept me physically fit. They helped me with my social skills because I was always involved with other kids. There were still ups and downs but you strove to get better. I learned to be a good teammate. And I also learned that you can’t help but become a better person, a better athlete as you get out and experience all the different sports that are out there.
GL – Did you find it hard to balance sports with academics?
JW – Not really. I seemed to find time to get it all accomplished. I had to have decent grades to participate, so striving to make that happen was a motivator. As a junior and senior I had to start thinking about scholarships academically and athletically. If you want to play basketball at a school like Duke, you have to have the grades to get in. For a student athlete, it’s a great motivation.
GL – You’ve had some injuries while playing professionally. Did you have any while playing as a youth?
JW – No, not really. As a junior in high school, coming straight out of basketball, I didn’t get as much warm-up time as I should have and I was trying to throw as hard as I could because of scouts being around. As a result, I strained my arm a bit but that was about the only thing.
GL – The topic of overuse injuries is going to be in our next issue. Do you have any advice to kids about that?
JW – It’s a fine line. To me, as a pitcher, the more repetition you get the more you don’t think about it and the better you get. You try to perfect your mechanics so you can concentrate on the batter and deliver the best defense against him. The fine line comes in knowing your body and what it can handle and what it can’t handle. Proper warm-up and proper mechanics are also really important.
GL – Do you have any advice for our young readers about overcoming challenges?
JW – Coming out of being injured is a lot mental. Such good rehab these days does make for better odds. You just have to work through the recovery process and stay mentally strong about it. Relying on your faith and believing that everything will work out for the best is one of the greatest strengths in overcoming challenges. I put all my faith in God to see what happens and how it all plays out.
GL – After the World Series this year your coach publicly praised your positive attitude and commitment to your team. Where did you develop that attitude and what does it mean to you?
JW – I was the odd-man-out starting in the playoffs because I wasn’t a starter. I was disappointed because I wanted to be right out there, to be in a prominent role. I understood that coaches make those decisions and I had to respect that and go about my business. I know I was prepared to do whatever they needed and to play whenever they asked me to play. I was still going to be a good teammate and root for the team. I was reading the book The Noticer, and it was all about perspective. It helped me go a little deeper to see where I really was … I was still on the roster, still playing on a major league team, still in the playoffs. How many people would give the world to be where I was right then? How many kids would like to just throw a baseball in a major league park? It was the best book for me at that time. When we went into the playoffs I had not pitched for 24 days (in a game, that is), and they called me to pitch in Game Four. That had to have been the most nervous I’ve ever been as a pitcher. However, the opportunity to pitch in Game Six in the World Series – and to get the win … emotions were very high. But I think if I had had a bad attitude during those down times, not respected the coach and his decisions, moped around and not been a good teammate, I might not have had that chance. It was an overall great experience.
GL – Did the attitude about respect, about doing whatever we have to do for the good of the team, come a lot from your dad?
JW – Without a doubt.
GL – Did your dad coach you growing up?
JW – Yes, youth league baseball and basketball. All the times he and the other coaches instilled in us the respect for parents, coaches and people of authority was always at the forefront. He taught me to do everything without complaining.
Jake is married to his high school sweetheart, Heather Daniels, and they have three children, ages six, four and one. He really enjoys the challenges of being a dad, and it seems to me that he has a great example to follow.
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