When you see Major League pitcher Jerome Williams for the first time, you see a big, strong man with hands the size of a grizzly bear. At 6’3″ and 240 lbs, you know for sure that he’s an athlete, and was likely “bred” somewhere in the Midwest.
And then he opens his mouth.
Bruddah’s first words to me were in pidgin. I loved it. And as we got to talking, his humble and down to earth nature made me feel right at home as if we grew up together back in the day. Just choke Aloha. The big grizzly bear had suddenly turned into a soft teddy bear. 😛
Jerome Williams and author Edward Sugimoto
Williams was born and raised in Waipahu Hawaii. As a Marauder standout, he was selected, at the tender age of 17, by the San Francisco Giants as the 39th overall pick in the first round of the 1999 Major League Baseball draft. By 21, he made his big league debut – a tough loss against the Philadelphia Phillies – but closed out the year with 88 strikeouts, a 3.30 ERA and winning 7-5 record.
His baseball career has taken him all over the league with stints with the Giants, Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals, as well as all over the world, playing in leagues as far away as Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Taiwan. His most recent gig with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim was cut short this past off season when the Angels decided not to tender his contract, which actually now opens the door to sign on as a full time starter (Williams’ preference) for a number of interested teams vying for his attention.
I recently caught up with Williams during his recent trip back home to Hawaii.
[Edward Sugimoto] First of all Happy (32nd) Birthday! (Jerome’s birthday is on 12/4/81)
[Jerome Williams] Thank you man, thank you.
[Edward Sugimoto] Did you do anything fun for your birthday?
[Jerome Williams] Well, not yet…
[Edward Sugimoto] Still early?
[Jerome Williams] Still early in the morning. Actually, I goin go see my mom. My mom stay up in um, down Kaneohe side (Hawaiian Memorial Park Mortuary). I’m gonna see my mom today. I always do that every year on my birthday. Go see my mother.
[Edward Sugimoto] Not many people know this, but you’re part Hawaiian.
[Jerome Williams] Yeah.
[Edward Sugimoto] (What’s) Your favorite Hawaiian word?
[Jerome Williams] Da kine (laughs).
Jerome Williams during our interview (Photo Credit: Arthur Betts IV)
[Edward Sugimoto] (laughs) That’s a good one. And what about your favorite phrase in pidgin?
[Jerome Williams] It’s explicit so I cannot say. Nah, most of my friends we always talk and there’s a lot of explicit stuff in it, but sometimes I get to a point where I use it a lot up in the mainland and guys don’t understand so I try not to say nothing.
[Edward Sugimoto] You can actually use it!
[Jerome Williams] I can’t actually use it at all. But like I said, it’s explicit so I can’t really say on air.
[Edward Sugimoto] No worries, no worries. In some what bittersweet news, the Angels decided not to tender your contract yesterday, making you a free agent. Your agent Larry O’Brien has been quoted though as saying that it could be a blessing in disguise because you could start for a number of other teams. What are your current thoughts on that and have you given any thought to a team you might want to pitch for?
[Jerome Williams] Um, you know, I think it’s a good thing for me. The years I was with the Angels I was a swing man. I was in the bullpen and starting, but you know, I really wanted to stay with the Angels. I just bought a home there. Like how you said, it is bittersweet. I felt like I had a new beginning with them and you know right now it’s just a waiting process. I’m a free agent now. There’s a lot of teams I really want to go to. First of all, I want to stay on the west coast. Closer to home, closer to my family. Also too, I want to be at a place where I can have spring training in Arizona (Cactus League). I really don’t like to go all the way down to Florida (Grapefruit League). It’s a long haul all the way out there and the travel for the games and all that stuff. Your closest trip is two hours. That’s the longest trip in Arizona. I just want to try and be closer to Arizona and closer to home.
[Edward Sugimoto] You’ve had a lot of twists and turns in your baseball career taking you all over the world (including stints in Puerto Rico and Taiwan). At any point, did you ever feel like giving up?
[Jerome Williams] Um, I want to say probably in 2008. 2007 I was with the Nationals and in 2008 I couldn’t find a job. I couldn’t find a job anywhere so I played independent ball. And the year I played independent ball, I thought I wasn’t going to make it back at all. But my wife and kids and my family, they always supported me so that year I got picked up and then I went to Puerto Rico to play winter ball. I got picked up by Oakland and then that next year I went to Taiwan. And then I went up and down playing from like I said Taiwan, Puerto Rico for winter ball, Venezuela for winter ball, Mexico for winter ball, so you know, I’ve been all over the place to try and get back to where I needed to be and fortunately, I got picked up by the Angels when I was in Independent ball in 2011.
[Edward Sugimoto] It was a good thing you didn’t give up because you had somewhat of a renaissance in your career.
[Jerome Williams] Exactly. All that hard work, everything that I’ve been through, it made me stronger.
[Edward Sugimoto] For those who don’t know, you wear a pink glove when you pitch. Can you talk a little bit about what that represents to you?
[Jerome Williams] When I first got drafted, my mom was alive. And then in 2001 my mom passed away from breast cancer so at that time I wanted to honor her and wear a puka shell necklace cause she actually gave it to me. But as the years went on, I got bigger and the necklace got smaller (smiles), so it broke. But in 2010 when I was in Taiwan, I was on a trip up there and I was real flashy with gloves out there. They’re real flashy with it. And the first time I went by a store, I seen a pink glove and I told myself I was going to get one. So that next year, 2011 would’ve been 10 years (since the passing of his mom) so I just wanted to pay tribute to my mom so I wore a pink glove. That’s what the pink glove represents it represents my mother who passed away with breast cancer. I wear it every day on the mound. The first glove I had that I brought to the big leagues, I still have it. I don’t use it anymore because I got another contract with Woodz. They gave me a contract (smiles). I’m the first non-Taiwanese player to (be) sponsor(ed) (wearing) their gloves in the major leagues so I’m pretty thankful for that. Just by using the pink glove it shows awareness of breast cancer. I know some people know that the MLB, they do breast cancer days. Breast Cancer day is every day for me.
[Edward Sugimoto] Do you think you’re going to start a trend with other pitchers?
[Jerome Williams] Well, if that trend starts, I’m the original guy to do it so hopefully I can get recognized for that first, and then people can do it.
[Edward Sugimoto] Your name, your moniker on Twitter and Instagram is @pinkpuka57. You mentioned the glove and the puka shell… Is that kinda where it came from?
[Jerome Williams] That’s how it came about. In the beginning when I first got called up, like I said, I wore the puka shell necklace and a couple of the guys on the team used to call me, that used to be my nickname is “puka” so that’s how they knew me as. And then once I had the pink glove and everything and then my number (57), then I was like you know what, I might as well put all those three together and make it just one.
Jerome Williams during our interview (Photo Credit: Arthur Betts IV)
[Edward Sugimoto] What is your typical day like back here in the islands?
[Jerome Williams] It depends. I know my wife and kids, they’ve been here a lot, so we try and hit up some places to go eat. The stuff that we don’t have up in California. The first day I arrived, I went straight to Jackie’s Diner in Waimalu. And then, last night, I took my wife to Shiro’s (Saimin Haven) in Ewa. The other day I went to Highway Inn. Highway Inn, I used to live right across the street from there. So we just try to hit up the places that we know we can’t get out in California and also too, just try to spend time with family and friends. Usually on the weekends and even during the week, friends, they come to the house, or I actually go to them. They play softball at Waipahu Rec Center or at CORPs. They ask me sometimes if I want to go play with them, and I play with them! I actually try and give back to the guys that actually gave back to me. That’s the true friends that I want to see. That’s the true friends that I want to hang out with. Sometimes I’ll go and see one of my good friends Bubba from Rebel Souljahz. They were born and raised in Waipahu and I remember when they were little kids. I always try and support them. The other night, I went to Republik to support Maoli and Jordan T. So I met those guys too. You know I just want to try and support anybody that’s from Hawaii that’s doing well and also too my family and friends.
[Edward Sugimoto] What are your favorite non baseball related hobbies?
[Jerome Williams] For some odd reason, everybody looks at me and they don’t think electronics, but I’m an electronic freak. Right now, I have all of my kids all on the electronics. My four year old knows how to use an iPad from left to right. And, actually, he knows how to do Minecraft. I don’t even know how to do Minecraft! So I got my kids doing Minecraft, I love computers, I love music. I like anything with any electronical type of things. Sometimes I like to do my car, like speakers, integrate my iPod into it so I’m really big into that. And then also too I like to play basketball but I can’t play basketball because I’m under contract. And my wife is like you don’t need to play basketball right now because you’re a free agent and if you get hurt then, next thing you know, you can’t play. I’m kinda pissed off about that. That’s the type of cardio I like to do, but I know how basketball is here, especially outside, and especially of what I am, people would probably want to try and hurt me.
[Edward Sugimoto] You mentioned your iPod. What’s on your iPod right now… Some of your favorites?
[Jerome Williams] It goes from electronics to dub step to reggae to Hawaiian music, hip hop, r & b, rock, country, I mean everything. I just looked at my computer because I put a 1 terabyte hard drive inside my computer and right now, on my iTunes, I have 316 gigs of music. So it’s equivalent to almost 55,000 songs. I have all that on top my computer and I showed my dad and my dad was like “Why the hell do you need all that music? You don’t even listen to it.” And I was like “No, trust me, I’ll listen to it.” But it’s cool to have those types of music because maybe one day, you want to try and browse through it and you’ll be like “Oh dang I used to listen to that when I was in high school.”
[Edward Sugimoto] Yeah, brings back memories.
[Jerome Williams] Yup.
[Edward Sugimoto] You mentioned Jordan T… Any other favorite Hawaiian bands?
[Jerome Williams] You know Jordan T, Maoli. Who else you got? Iration, of course Rebel (Souljahz). Some of the newer stuff, I really don’t listen to cause we don’t have that access up in the mainland but when I do come down, I always try and help them out, I always try and listen to it. I’m really an old school guy with the Hawaiian music. I can go back to Natty Vibes (Natural Vibrations), go down to Kapena, Hui Ohana. Hui Ohana is one of my favorites because that’s what my mom used to dance to. She used to dance hula and there’s one song I always listen to when I feel down and out. It was a song that my mom used to dance to called Sweet Lei Mokihana. Actually I listened to that song on my first win in the major leagues after I came out of the game because it soothes me and it always reminds me of my mother.
[Edward Sugimoto] You are one of only a handful of Hawaii bred baseball players in the Major Leagues so the fraternity is pretty tight I’m assuming. How often do you get to chat with people like Vic (Shane Victorino), Brandon League, and Kolten Wong, etc.?
[Jerome Williams] It’s kinda hard to talk to Brandon and Kolten because they were in the National League at that time, and I played Vic twice a year, I played him one time in Boston and one time at home in Anaheim, but whenever I get the chance, I always want to try and reach out to them. When Kurt (Suzuki) and Kila (Ka’aihue) was in Oakland, I talked to them almost every time because they’re in the same division. It’s a funny story because every time I talk to them pidgin comes out. So one of the guys on the team, LaTroy Hawkins, actually came up to me and was like “Jerome, are you from Hawaii?” and I’m like “Yes.” and he was like “Well, I want you to talk to Kila and Kurt right now. I want you to talk to them right now just like how you talk back at home.” OK, so we started talking and he kinda actually stopped me. And he was like “Jerome, I don’t understand what you said, but from what you did say, I know you’re from Hawaii.” I’m like, “OK, I told you guys that!” Because everybody thinks you know I’m black, but they don’t believe that I’m from Hawaii. I was born and raised here, born and raised in Waipahu, everybody don’t believe that. But getting back to what you said about all the guys, yeah, it’s a tight fraternity and we always want to try and see each other or try and talk to each other or give each other information. I don’t know if you guys were reading things on Twitter when we had the World Series. You never found that. That’s the first time ever you had two Hawaii guys in the World Series playing against each other. I was pulling for Vic because me and Vic, we got drafted with each other and I knew him for a long time. Kolten…
[Edward Sugimoto] Didn’t play that much anyway…
[Jerome Williams] Well he did play a couple times, a couple times he did good and the one time he did bad, but you know what. At least he had the opportunity to get there. I mean, I never got an opportunity to get there. I’ve been playing for, since I was like what, my first year was in ’03. I’m happy for them getting there and especially for Kolten. He’s gonna have the opportunity to play second (base) now for the Cardinals. Hopefully he can shine and do well too.
[Edward Sugimoto] And finally, do you have a word for your fans out there?
[Jerome Williams] Awww man, fans. Shoot. I know you guys follow me on Twitter and Instagram @pinkpuka57. Thanks for all the support you have done for me. I always try and give back to Hawaii any way I can and this is one of the ways I want to give back, saying thank you to you guys. It’s been a long road for me and I know you guys know my story. Every time I come back I always want to try and do something for Hawaii. This is my way of saying thank you. Thank you to everybody and um, just keep supporting me. Like I said, follow me on Instagram and Twitter @pinkpuka57. Aloha. Thank you.
Jerome Williams and photographer/videographer Arthur Betts IV