CHICAGO — Jesse Crain has been around long enough to know exactly what kind of shape his body — specifically, his arm — needs to be in whenever he breaks spring training for the long, demanding grind of the Major League Baseball season.
And at the beginning of this year, something just wasn’t right.
Frustrated by a strained right oblique during spring training, Crain nonetheless came out of the gate throwing heat out of the bullpen for the Chicago White Sox, only to be sent to the disabled list when his opposite oblique betrayed him.
However, since his return to the White Sox bullpen on May 14, the 1999 graduate of Fairview High and former Longmont resident has seamlessly resumed his setup role for a squad that has made a surprising statement as one of the teams to beat in the American League Central Division.
“I’ve battled through a few things this year,” Crain said. “I was able to start the season, but then a few weeks into the season my left (oblique) went. I don’t know if it was one of those things, kind of like hamstrings, where your body kind of takes over and overworks the other side. That was pretty frustrating, because I was throwing the ball well.
“But I feel like I’ve been around long enough now that I’m real confident in my mechanics. I’m able to not lose those if I happen to get off a bit. As long as my arm feels good, I feel like I can come back and be where I need to be.”
Crain quietly has established himself as one of the most consistent right-handed power relievers in the A.L. Central. Now in his second season with Chicago after spending his first seven seasons with Minnesota, Crain has provided quality innings for the White Sox since his return from the disabled list on May 14.
Going into the finale of the White Sox’s cross-town interleague rivalry series against the Cubs on Wednesday, Crain had allowed only three earned runs in 132/3 innings since returning from his injury.
“The last two and a half years or so I’ve really started to feel comfortable, especially being over here,” said Crain, who, barring another injury setback, will approach the 500th appearance of his career by the end of the season. “The way they use me, I feel like I’m one of their guys. I feel they’re going to go toward me and they expect that from me. I’ve learned a lot, especially the last four years. The longer you’re in the game, the more you learn. You learn every day.”
Although Crain’s first season on Chicago’s South Side was marked by disappointment, as a club expected to contend floundered at or below .500, the star of Fairview’s 1999 state title team was quick to credit the steadying presence of first-year manager Robin Ventura for the Sox’s surprising start this year.
“Last year, I liked Ozzie (Guillen) as a manager and he treated me well,” Crain said. “There was just dissention between the coaching staff and the front office. In the clubhouse, you can kind of feel it. You’re not on either side, but you can feel the tension there. With Robin coming in with the other new guys, everyone’s on the same page. They’re very positive. They want you to play hard and that’s all they ask of you.”
While Crain now makes his offseason home in Texas, where he went to college, his family (along with the family of his wife Becky, also a Fairview grad) remain in the Boulder area. He has been generous with his time and wallet in helping to support the Knights’ baseball program.
In January, Crain organized a bowling outing in Westminster to help begin raising funds for an indoor hitting facility for wintertime use by coach Rick Harig’s Fairview baseball squad. Crain said the event helped get the project more than one-third of the way toward the goal of raising $100,000 for the facility. Crain hopes to hold another similar event later this year, possibly in November.
“I love to give back, especially for Fairview,” Crain said. “Me and Rick Harig are still great friends. I enjoyed playing there and I think he does a great job with everybody that goes through there. One thing we never had in Colorado, especially in the Boulder area, was an indoor hitting facility. I wanted to raise some money to help kick-start building their own place. We had a hot start but obviously we need some more money. The goal is to have one in the next couple of years for anybody from Fairview to use that facility.”
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