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Commentary: Carthage's Humber knows staying in big leagues harder than getting there

By J.C. Derrick jcderrick1@gmail.com
May 24, 2011 at 11 p.m.

ARLINGTON - I first met Philip Humber in March of 2007. Well, technically I met him in 1994 when I was on the losing end of a couple of little league skirmishes, but that doesn't count.

In 2007, I went to Florida to cover Major League Baseball spring training, where Humber was a 24-year-old prospect for the New York Mets. The former Carthage star was trying to make the starting rotation less than three years after being drafted, and less than two years after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his elbow.

I remember future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine, who was chasing his 300th win at the time, speaking highly of the young right-hander as he traveled on what appeared to be on the fast track.

But life happens.

Although he remained mostly healthy, Humber found himself struggling to permanently establish himself in the big leagues over the following four seasons. From 2007 through 2010, Humber made exactly 100 minor league appearances, and just 24 at the major league level.

"It's hard to get here, but it's a lot harder to stay. I've definitely figured that out in my career," Humber said this week while in Arlington with his new team, the Chicago White Sox.

Humber has found a home with Chicago's South Siders this season, rattling off quality starts like a pitcher bent on making a statement. Thus far, Humber has forced his way into the White Sox rotation with a 3-3 record and a 3.10 ERA, consistently working deep into almost every game.

"I've had a lot of opportunities, and I feel like I'm taking advantage of this one," he said. "It's all about timing."

Following his stint with the Mets, Humber was traded to the Minnesota Twins, and then later picked up by the Kansas City Royals and Oakland Athletics before landing in Chicago.

Humber's path is not unlike two other East Texans in some respects. Longview's Chris Davis and Kilgore's Jess Todd also made it to the big leagues quickly, but have found it tough to stay there.

Davis was sent back down to Triple-A Round Rock this week after Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz came off the disabled list for the Texas Rangers. He's spent parts of each season between Triple-A and the majors since 2008.

Todd started 2011 with the Cleveland organization, then was claimed on waivers by the New York Yankees earlier this month. That gig barely lasted 10 days before he was claimed on waivers by the St. Louis Cardinals, the team that drafted him in the second round in 2007.

Humber knows what the uncertainty feels like.

"You've got to take it one day at a time and not look at it like it's the end of the world when you get sent down," he said. "You try to earn it every day, regardless of where you're at."

Humber credited his family with providing important support during his professional baseball journey. He said the stress on them can be worse than it is for the player.

"You're away from each other a lot and they're the one that has to bear the brunt of it when things don't go well," he said. "They kind of ride that roller coaster with you. They can't control any of it, they're just out there cheering for you and hoping things go well."

The turning point for Humber came when he evaluated why he was playing. He said playing for God, and not other people, made a huge difference.

"If you're worried about what the coaches, other players or what the media thinks about you, that's taking your focus off of what you need to do," he said.

Humber said his advice for Davis and Todd is to persevere with confidence.

"You have to work at it and stay mentally strong. If you're not confident in yourself, it will definitely show up on the field," he said. "Just keep having fun."

<em>- E-mail: jcderrick1@gmail.com.</em>



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