DETROIT — Little League teammates dream of someday playing together in the major leagues. It’s an aspiration that usually fades by the time they finish high school. But for Joba Chamberlain and Alex Gordon, the dream was realized.
Chamberlain is one of the game’s most dependable relievers for the Detroit Tigers, while Gordon is a Gold Glove left fielder for the Kansas City Royals. And their trip to the majors began 20 years ago as Little League opponents in Lincoln, Neb.
"I’ve played with or against Alex since I was 7," said Chamberlain, 27. "And we became teammates when we were 11 and 12, and playing for the Lincoln Rebels. When we got to high school, we were at rival schools. I was at Lincoln Northeast and he was at Lincoln Southeast."
Chamberlain pitched at Division II University of Nebraska-Kearney in 2004 before joining Gordon back in their hometown at the University of Nebraska.
"We’d played at rival high schools," Gordon said, "and the improvement he made in the one year before coming to Nebraska was incredible. It was like a total transformation."
Chamberlain helped Gordon, who won several national player of the year awards, lead the Cornhuskers to the College World Series in 2005. They split games with Arizona State and lost to Florida to get eliminated and end a dream season. Chamberlain was 10-2 with a 2.81 ERA, and had 13 strikeouts in a Super Regional win over Miami.
Chamberlain was drafted 41st overall in the 2006 draft by the New York Yankees after the Royals made Gordon the second overall pick in 2005.
"Alex was always better than everybody else at every level we played at," Chamberlain said. "When we were like 10 years old, Alex made an error on a ball that went right through his legs and we thought the world was ending."
Gordon laughed when Chamberlain’s memory of that error was relayed.
"But my favorite memory of Alex was when he got thrown out of the Super Regional qualifier with Miami," Chamberlain said. "He’s in a shirt and shorts in photos of our celebration after that game.
"But the time when we met in September when we were both in the big leagues for the first time was really big, too."
Gordon is 2-for-4 off Chamberlain with one strikeout, and they would’ve squared off in Wednesday’s game had Chamberlain not gotten Billy Butler to hit into an inning-ending double in the eighth. Gordon was scratched from Thursday’s starting lineup with flu-like symptoms.