KISSIMMEE, Fla. - On a recent day at the Houston Astros' camp, Hawaiian music was playing in the clubhouse and there was Jerome Williams, proudly wearing a hat showing the flag of his home state.
The Waipahu High School graduate, 32, is a mentor to the young Astros, and also tries to help new professional ballplayers - with any team - who are from Hawaii because he knows the unique difficulties of adjusting to life away from the Aloha State.
"It's tough for kids coming from Hawaii because it's so isolated from the Mainland U.S.," Williams said. "When we come to the Mainland it's real fast for us. You have to grow up real quick and some kids can't handle that because in Hawaii it's so laid back."
‘I always say that the day that I don’t learn something new is the day I quit. I’m still here, so obviously I don’t know everything and I’m still going to learn. I’m 32 and I’ve been playing for a long time, but I still can learn things.’
– Jerome Williams
Williams is one of five Hawaii-born players who appeared in the major leagues last year. Two are established veterans from Maui - outfielder Shane Victorino of the Boston Red Sox and catcher Kurt Suzuki, now with the Minnesota Twins after playing for the Washington Nationals and Oakland Athletics in 2013. Houston pitcher Scott Feldman is from Oahu. St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong is from the Big Island.
"That fraternity is so tight, we're always going to be tight-knit," Williams said. "We always try to support each other. I know every last one of them."
Williams was a first-round draft pick of the San Francisco Giants in 1999, and made his major league debut with the team four years later. He went 17-14 with a 3.93 ERA over the next three seasons. He was then traded and had a solid year with the Chicago Cubs before struggling in 2006 and seeing his ERA balloon to 7.30. He signed with the Nationals in 2007 and was released after going 0-5 in six starts.
Toronto 4, Pittsburgh 2
Minnesota 8, Boston 2
N.Y. Yankees 7, Detroit (ss) 4
Philadelphia 10, Detroit (ss) 6
Baltimore 4, Tampa Bay 2
Miami 5, St. Louis 4
Washington 5, N.Y. Mets 4
San Francisco (ss) 4, Milwaukee 3
Cleveland 4, Cincinnati 0
Oakland 7, San Francisco (ss) 6
Kansas City 11, Texas 1
L.A. Dodgers 5, Chicago White Sox 0
Seattle 12, San Diego 1
L.A. Angels 15, Chicago Cubs 3
Colorado 11, Arizona 0
Houston 7, Atlanta 5
Today's Games (HST)
Atlanta vs. Washington, 8:05 a.m.
Toronto vs. Baltimore, 8:05 a.m.
St. Louis vs. Miami (ss), 8:05 a.m.
Philadelphia vs. N.Y. Yankees, 8:05 a.m.
Boston vs. Minnesota, 8:05 a.m.
Houston vs. Detroit, 8:05 a.m.
Tampa Bay vs. Pittsburgh, 8:05 a.m.
Miami (ss) vs. N.Y. Mets, Fla., 8:10 a.m.
Texas vs. Oakland, 10:05 a.m.
L.A. Dodgers vs. Milwaukee , 10:05 a.m.
L.A. Angels vs. Seattle, 10:05 a.m.
Colorado vs. Cincinnati, 10:05 a.m.
Cleveland vs. Chicago White Sox, 10:05 a.m.
San Francisco vs. Chicago Cubs, 10:05 a.m.
San Diego vs. Kansas City, 10:05 a.m.
Milwaukee vs. Arizona, 10:10 a.m.
Chicago Cubs vs. Arizona, 4:10 p.m.
Williams was overweight, had developed a reputation as being lazy and couldn't get another major league gig.
"When I was coming up with the Giants I was a pretty good player, I was a top prospect a couple of years," he said. "Got to the big leagues at the young age of 21. Then I fell into a mode where I didn't think anyone could take my spot and I didn't even work at it."
"That was the downfall for me," he added. "I didn't take advantage of everything and I didn't do it right."
Williams spent the next four years bouncing around in independent leagues, playing winter ball in various countries and pitching in Taiwan one year. It was a trying time for Williams, who has four children.
"I wanted to give it up but I couldn't," he said. "I wanted my kids to see me succeed instead of seeing me fail."
Williams started 2011 playing independent ball, but by August had joined the Los Angeles Angels and appeared in his first major league game in four years. He went 4-0 with a 3.68 ERA in 10 games that season to earn a job in 2012, and also spent last season with the Angels before signing as a free agent with the Astros.
"I just told myself if I do get back to where I need to be I was going to do it right," Williams said. "And I've been doing it right ever since."
Houston manager Bo Porter said Williams will be helpful to the team's young pitchers.
"You can learn a lot from someone else if you're willing to listen," Porter said. "Him sitting down and having some of those conversations with some of our younger guys, of being a former prospect and going through all the different changes that he had to go through to be where he's at in his career, I think it's very beneficial for our younger guys to have that kind of experience sitting on our ballclub."
Williams believes he can gain as much from the youngsters as they can from him.
"I always say that the day that I don't learn something new is the day I quit," he said. "I'm still here, so obviously I don't know everything and I'm still going to learn."