By Dallas Bordon
For Madison County’s Jake Westbrook, home has always been where his heart is.
Westbrook’s profession has taken him to nearly all corners of the United States doing a job that most kids can only dream of — playing professional baseball. Now at age 36, Westbrook is finally able to call Danielsville his permanent home.
Construction on his north Madison County home is near completion and he is now able to enjoy something he has missed for 18 years, being a full-time husband and dad. Westbrook retired from professional baseball after the 2013 season, feeling that he’s accomplished most everything he could with the game.
“The Lord blessed me with some wonderful abilities, talents and opportunities that not a lot of people in this world have,” said Westbrook. “I did everything I could to glorify him (God) by working hard every day to make the most of those abilities, talents and opportunities.”
Life on the road and being away from family was a tough task for Westbrook over the years. Westbrook married his high school sweetheart, Heather Daniels, during the early part of his career and they now have four children: Parker, 8; Keaton, 6; Harper, 3; and Paxton, 21 months. Family played a major part in Westbrook’s decision to hang up his spikes.
“Being away from my family for such long periods of time got really old,” said the former Red Raider standout. “Also, my ability to keep playing physically made it tough to make it through the grind of such a long season.”
Playing the game wasn’t always an easy day at the office for Westbrook.
“It wasn’t easy by any means,” said Westbrook. “I had to continue to get better, work hard, overcome injuries to play as long as I did. I had a blast! Getting to play baseball for a living for almost 18 years was a blessing but I’m looking forward to being home.”
Westbrook had plenty of reasons to feel blessed. Many times professional sports will cause a player to miss the birth of their children, but this was not so for Westbrook. He was present for all four of his children’s births. But there were times he still missed out on many family occasions, but he credits his family for their understanding while he was fulfilling a life-long dream.
“Heather is awesome and she’s been with me my entire career following me all over the country,” said Westbrook. “She’s been supportive and does an awesome job with the kids even when it was four on one because daddy was gone.”
Lost time with family can never be gained back, but Westbrook makes the days count now as he refers to himself as the human jungle gym for his children. They love the pool and whatever sport is in season, they are usually taking part in it. Being around sports every since his dad, Cauthen, could get a ball in his hand, Westbrook is quickly passing that tradition down to his boys. Still trying to figure out which is the best fit between travel baseball and Little League, Westbrook is just trying to find that balance with sports for his children between getting better and getting burned out.
“I didn’t do anything like travel ball until late in high school,” said Westbrook. “Everything nowadays is so specialized and year round.”
Growing up playing Little League baseball and throughout his career, Westbrook’s most influential professional player was new Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, who specialized in throwing the sinker ball pitch as did Westbrook. During his professional career “Westy” as his teammates called him, credits pitchers like Charles Nagy with the Indians and Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright with the Cardinals for helping him grow as a pitcher.
But Westbrook is quick to point out the person whom he would draw his inspiration from. His dad, Cauthen, a standout at Madison County High School and a two-sport athlete at Georgia, is the real hero to Jake.
“Growing up I heard countless people tell me what an amazing athlete my dad was while playing baseball and basketball at Georgia,” said Westbrook. “That’s what I wanted to do because that’s what my dad did.”
Playing basketball was Westbrook’s favorite sport at Madison County High School, but he had a blast playing baseball as well. As for Westbrook’s role in teaching the game of baseball, he is unsure what the future holds.
“I think I’ll eventually get into some sort of coaching, whether it’s actually coaching or just some kind of instruction,” he said. “I’m not quite sure yet.”
Westbrook holds many MCHS baseball records, such as lowest career earned run average, 1.37 in 1994-96, shutouts in a season, six, in 1996, and career shutouts, 11, 1994-96.
Westbrook originally signed to play for Georgia but instead decided to take the road to the professional ranks right out of high school.
“I think it was a good choice,” said Westbrook. “I told myself before I got drafted that if I went in the first or second round that I was probably going to sign because the money would have been tough to turn down.”
His decision paid off and he feels that he accomplished what he wanted to do in professional baseball. Westbrook was the winning pitcher in game six of the 2011 World Series and earned a world championship ring as the Cardinals won the series. He also broke the 100-win mark and even showed some power at the plate by hitting a grand slam.
Westbrook made his major league debut on one of the most historic stages in baseball — Yankee Stadium in 2000.
“I had a million emotions at that time,” said Westbrook. “I was so nervous that I forgot to leave tickets for my family and friends.”
If asked if there is anything Westbrook would have done different in his career, his answer was a simple one.
“I’m not sure I’d do anything over. I feel like I had a pretty decent career,” said Westbrook.
The key ingredient to his successful time in the majors was some simple advice he received from his coaches.
“Don’t be afraid to fail,” said Westbrook “You have to be confident in your abilities and go at it with all you have. Baseball is a game of failure, a game where if you fail seven out of ten times you’re considered a really good hitter. It took me a while to trust that my sinker was really good and just go right after the hitters.”
Westbrook still maintains contact with many of his former teammates. He misses the game and friends he has gained but he’s glad to be home.
“Not a day will go by where I won’t know how blessed I was to have the career that I had nor a day that will go by where I won’t know how blessed I am to have the family and friends here back home to spend the rest of my life with,” said Westbrook.
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