James Beating Odds, Becoming a Star

RHP Craig James (Photo/Inland Empire 66ers)

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. - Craig James is part of a gang. Well, kind of. The gang he calls the "James Gang" is all of the family from his native Miami, Florida that has stood by him on his long, strange trip to the Seattle Mariners organization.

James, a former draft pick of the San Francisco Giants in 2001 out of high school, found out after being drafted that his pitching elbow had more then just tendonitis.

"Before my high school season was over, I started to feel a sharp pain in my pitching elbow," said the closer of the Inland Empire 66ers. "I went to Baptist Hospital in Miami and got an MRI. I was diagnosed and he told me that I had tendonitis in my elbow."

The odyssey did not stop there as the Giants already had James in Rookie League in Scottsdale but trainers were instructed to not have him pitch until another, more conclusive MRI could be done.

Two weeks went by and James could only watch from the dugout as he waited for his medical clearance.

"I got the MRI back and the Giants doctor told me, ‘Bad news. You have a partially torn Medial Collateral Ligament in your elbow. It is 33 percent torn."

He was told that needed to have surgery and that his contract would be voided because the Giants felt he had been withholding information.

One week later, James was home again in Miami, not playing baseball.

The next major step for the young right-hander was finding someone to do the surgery, a situation made more difficult due to that fact that he didn't have medical insurance.

Then, an angel floated down from the heavens.

Dr. John Uribe, a doctor at the University of Miami and former team physician for the Miami Dolphins and Florida Marlins, performed the surgery at no cost to James or his family, fixing the damaged ligament in the elbow.

"He was all positive," James said of the surgeon, adding that he felt Uribe helped bring to life the pitching career the Giants felt was dead. "Every time I see him, I get down on my knees and tell him thank you. He paid for my surgery."

The surgery was on September 28, 2001.

The road back to recovery is usually a year or more for a pitcher after having surgery on the medial collateral ligament in an elbow.

"In 9-10 months, I was throwing again off a mound," said James. "But I could not go long innings. I still had a little time to go but my velocity was back. As long as my velocity is there, I know that I can work on everything else."

James knew that baseball was what he wanted in life during the rehab and the adversity built a scorching hot fire inside of him.

"I knew that baseball was not over for me. I have that fight in me," James said.

James signed a free agent deal in 2003 with the Mariners, and since then has become one of the top power arms in the system.

A mid-season call-up from Wisconsin after keeping his ERA under 1.00 for the first half of the season, James has excelled equally with the Inland Empire 66ers. He sports a 1.00 ERA in 15 appearances, having given up just two home runs all year.

But as talkative of a guy as he is, the Florida native prefers to talk about his team rather than himself.

"We have the team. We could easily win it all," said James of the red-hot 66ers. "When we click, we are unstoppable."

The mid-season call up did not bother the spirited closer, who happens to love his role in the bullpen.

"My approach is go after every hitter as if it is my last," said the pitcher.

The routine of pitchers, James says, is different from closers to starters.

"I can get pumped up in three seconds. I get this rush over me," he said. "I know that I am going to get called on. That feeling is like no other. Someone is putting their faith in you to win this ballgame. That says a lot about you because they called you over everyone else. I am going to do my best to get them out."

The self-proclaimed "ball-hog" from T-ball who made a triple play at the age of five has turned into a force to be reckoned with for the Inland Empire 66ers. He has proven in a matter of three seasons that nobody can slow down one's heart, desire and God-given ability, and that will surely help him in what is looking like an accelerated trip to Safeco Field in Seattle.

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