Secret to His Success: Sister helps Bluefish’s Charlton Jimerson rise from tough childhood

BRIDGEPORT -- It has been nearly five years since Lanette Jimerson sat in Minute Maid Park in Houston. To her, it might as well have been yesterday.

Some memories never fade. Being part of crowd of 30,911 to witness her younger brother, Charlton, make his big-league debut with the Astros on Sept. 14, 2005, is one of those memories.

Lanette remembers Charlton proudly seeing his name etched across the top of his jersey. She remembers hearing his name announced over the public address system when he entered the game in center field in the ninth inning. And she remembers taking a photo of the Jumbotron when his picture was displayed.

Lanette, too, remembers how difficult it was at times growing up in California with two parents battling drug addiction. She had played a significant role in raising Charlton, becoming his legal guardian when she was 19. Seeing Charlton realize his dream that day in Houston was something to cherish.

"Early on when he was in the minor leagues, he was kind of like, `What is this? What's going on? What's this process about,''' Lanette Jimerson said. "And I said to him, `Do you know how many millions of young men would love to be where you are? And they had it all growing up. You are one in a million right now. Through it all, you didn't give yourself any excuses.'''

A year later, the two shared a piece of history via a long-distance phone call. Jimerson, who is now an outfielder with the Bridgeport Bluefish, had earned another September call-up with the Astros. This time, he was awarded his first at-bat, pinch-hitting for Roger Clemens in Philadelphia with two outs in the sixth and Phillies' left-hander Cole Hamels working on a perfect game Sept. 4, 2006.

Jimerson hit a home run on a 2-and-1 pitch. He is one of only four members of the Astros to homer in their first career at-bat.

Jimerson has had only eight more at-bats in the big leagues. He is 4-for-9 with two home runs, two RBIs and four stolen bases in 31 games. He now seems to get caught in a numbers game, with organizations opting to stick with the players they drafted. Jimerson, however, does not beat him himself up over it.

"Life has presented way more than baseball could ever present me with as far as frustration or obstacles,'' Charlton Jimerson said. "Every time I go home, I've already won, because I'm 30 years old and I've seen more and done more than most people have seen and done their whole lives from this game. And the position I've put myself in through life, I already consider myself to be a success.''

Early HURDLes
His father, Eugene, left the family when Charlton was a toddler. According to Lanette, initially, things were as normal as could be for a family with five children -- four boys and one girl -- living in Oakland with their mother, Charlene.

It wasn't until Lanette was 11 and Charlton was about 6 that things began to change dramatically. The family moved to Hayward, Calif., and the moving never seemed to stop as Charlene's addiction raged. They followed their mother to their apartment, friends' apartments, homeless shelters and women's shelters.

Soon, the family began to splinter. Derell, the oldest, moved out when he was about 16. Eugene was next. Lanette then moved in with a friend when she was a sophomore in high school, leaving Charlton and Terrance.

Charlton said he never did witness any drug use by his mother. The signs were there, though.

"I knew it was going on,'' Charlton said. "I think she tried to do her best. But, obviously, when you're under the influence and you've got one child, let alone more than one child, to take care of, your parenting skills get a little bit cloudy.''

Charlton eventually moved in with his friend, Alex Sanders, when he was in fifth grade. He lived there until he was a freshman at Mount Eden High School. By that time, Lanette had already been working on becoming his legal guardian.

"We were close and we spent a lot of time together and we talked a lot,'' Lanette said. "I guess it first came up as a question when living at the Sanders' wasn't working out. So at that time, I was 18, and the courts were like, `You're too young.'''

Instead, Charlton moved in with Derell for about a year before Lanette was legally permitted to serve as his guardian in the spring of 1995. Lanette began watching over Terrance, who is six years younger than Charlton, soon afterward.

She rented a two-bedroom apartment, providing some stability. She picked Charlton up from school and attended his games, and the budding teacher in her insisted that he earn good grades.

Lanette, 35, is now a graduate student at California-Berkeley and was awarded the 2009-10 Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award in education. She teaches an undergraduate class in literacy and education, works with graduate students who are training to be principals, and teaches writing to seventh-grade students at a middle school in Oakland.

Charlton said he knew where to find his father during his high school years. He was on the streets near the University of California-Berkeley. He would meet him at times to hang out or have lunch.

Charlton never did let his family situation adversely affect him. Not only did he have Lanette to lean on, he also had a core group of friends with similar problems.

"We were living life," Charlton said. "We had each other. There's some stuff that we did growing up that people would never imagine you have to do. I had to wash my clothes in the tub and hang them up (on a railing) for the next day.''

Baseball beckons
Charlton spent a great deal of time at the Boys & Girls Club in Hayward, and baseball, in the form of Wiffle Ball, appealed to him. That gave him the desire to play Little League when he was 12. It wasn't until his junior year in high school when he got serious about the sport.

He hit over .400 as a senior at Mount Eden. The Astros drafted him in the 24th round in 1997 (760th overall). Charlton was poised to sign. Lanette had other ideas.

"I was the only one talking about, `Let's read that contract,'" Lanette said. "It says they want you to go to Chabot (College).'''

Chabot was located in Hayward, but Lanette had put rules in place. Charlton could not go to college within six hours of his home. He had offers to play baseball at Santa Clara and UC-Davis, but they were within 90 minutes of Hayward.

"I watched him very closely when he was coming up and I just wanted him not to hang around with his high school friends and not realize that there was a transition happening,'' Lanette said.

Charlton wanted to attend USC. He applied but was not accepted. His next option was Miami (Fla.).

"I had seen a commercial with all the palm trees and the beaches and stuff after the football games,'' Charlton said. "I went the next day and asked my counselor if she could get me an application to Miami.''

Charlton was accepted as a student due to his exceptional academic standing.

"My sister definitely was the first one to be a scholar, to lead the way and put me in a position to go to Miami,'' Charlton said.

In an attempt to gain the attention of Miami baseball coach Jim Morris, Lanette helped him assemble a portfolio. It included his high school press clippings, an essay on why he was interested in joining the program, and the fact that he had already been admitted.

The next order of business was generating enough money to attend. Jimerson got by on academic scholarships, aid from the school and loans.

Charlton, whose grade-point average ranged from 3.3 to 3.5, joined the Hurricanes as a walk-on. He hit .240 with seven home runs and 31 RBIs in 117 games in his first three seasons in primarily a reserve role.

As a senior in 2001, though, his career soared. Jimerson hit .302 with 10 home runs, 41 RBIs and 31 stolen bases in 58 games. He started the final 26 games after Marcus Nettles, his roommate/starting centerfielder, injured his hamstring.

Jimerson went on to become the Most Valuable Player of the College World Series that year as the Hurricanes won the championship. He hit .333 with leadoff home runs in the first two games and seven stolen bases over four games in the Series.

Jimerson, who earned a bachelor's degree in computer science, was again drafted by the Astros in 2001. This time, it was in the fifth round (146th overall). This time, he signed.

Jimerson eventually made an Opening Day roster for the first time and appeared in two games with the Seattle Mariners in 2008. He was later released later that season after hitting .233 with 11 home runs and 31 RBIs in 55 games at Class AAA Tacoma.

That's the last time he has been in affiliated ball.

"He's got some holes in his game,'' Bluefish general manager Bob Goughan said, "his all-or-nothing approach at the plate and his sometimes inability to hit a good breaking ball. But the other guys that got kept in affiliated ball had holes, too. The question is why Jimerson with his holes and why not these guys with their holes? He just goes about his business, and sometimes a lot of organizations look for that guy that's a self-promoter. Charlton is not a self-promoter.''

Jimerson hit an Atlantic League-leading .335 with 27 doubles, 21 home runs and 62 RBIs in 103 games with the Newark Bears in 2009. He also scored 91 runs and had 38 stolen bases.

He believed he did everything he needed to do to earn a roster spot at Class AAA Rochester in the Minnesota Twins organization this season. Despite producing in spring training, it wasn't enough to earn a spot.

"It was just simply a numbers situation with him,'' said Jim Rantz, the Twins senior director of the minor leagues. "I just didn't have a spot for him because of what I got sent back to me from the big-league club. I know it was a tough decision on our part and it was tough to tell him, because he did everything we asked him and he was having a good spring.''

Jimerson agreed to terms with the Bluefish on May 7. Through Friday, he was hitting .366 with 17 doubles, 10 home runs, 41 RBIs and 36 runs scored in 43 games.

"I'm not playing every day saying, `Look at me,''' Jimerson, a Liberty Division All-Star, said. "I'm here and I told the guys that you've got to be here because you want to be here and not just for anything else. So every day I'm prepared to be here. You've got to just stay positive and just play the game every day.''

Jimerson, the author
Jimerson's life experiences have hardened his resiliency. They have also led him to write a book titled "Against All Odds.'' The publication chronicles his life from the day he was born -- Sept. 22, 1979 -- to his memorable home run off of Hamels.

He hopes it will be released next year to coincide with the 10-year anniversary of Miami's College World Series title. That was also the time when the story of his life first surfaced publicly.

"It's copyrighted,'' Jimerson said. ``Now I just need a literary agent. `Against All Odds' kind of sums it up for me. It seems whenever people put me out of the equation, I just bounce back. I've got a year to find a literary agent and a publishing company and for my book to actually come out.''

Things have worked out nicely for Jimerson to this point. He is a husband and father of three children -- Alexa, 13; Tyson, 3; and Nicolas, 1.

Jimerson still speaks with his dad, whom Lanette said is now clean and sober. He sent him a Father's Day gift last month. Charlton said that he respects him and loves him, but that it is hard to play catch-up after everything that has transpired. He does not speak much with his mother because he knows drug abuse is still part of her life.

Charlton and Lanette talk about once a week.

"That's my best friend,'' Jimerson said. "She sacrificed a lot with her personal life. I still probably till the day I die will feel like I owe her way more than I can give her back. ''

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