Tigers pitcher Joba Chamberlain showing growth in career and beard

It emerged from the visitors' clubhouse and stalked through the tunnel at Yankee Stadium until it reached a room of awaiting media. Later, at batting practice, Derek Jeter gave it a playful pat. It shared a laugh with Joe Girardi.

This is Joba Chamberlain's beard, and it has a life all its own.

"I was just going to do it for spring training is all," said Chamberlain, lips mostly obscured by the majestic growth that is part Duck Dynasty and part Tom Hanks in "Castaway." "And then, seven months later, I still haven't shaved . . . It's not as easy as I thought. You have to comb it and make sure nothing is stuck in it. You don't want birds or whatever coming out of it."

Chamberlain isn't a Yankee anymore, as if the Detroit jersey didn't give that away. But that beard -- the one that reaches past his collarbone and requires special "conditioners and oils," he said -- is as big an indication as any that things have changed.

For one, it seems to have imbued him with Samson-like power: A washed-up, injury-prone afterthought in the Yankees' bullpen in 2013, he's excelled this year with Detroit after earning the setup role. His 442/3 innings going into Monday night's game already exceed last year's total, and his 3.02 ERA is almost two full runs lower than the 4.93 he hauled around at the end of 2013.

That Yankees trajectory -- golden child to forgotten child -- could've left Chamberlain bitter, but he made it abundantly clear Monday that he has nothing but love for his old squad.

Before the game, he said he didn't know if he'd be booed.

"I gave them everything I got and I love the fans," he said. "I tried to sign autographs and do all those things that I know meant so much to them. I wouldn't change anything for anything -- the good, the bad, the indifferent. I hope they appreciate the fact that I'd go out every time and try to do everything I could to put up a zero and give us a chance to win."

He grew up with the Yankees, he added, and so did his son, Karter. "New York will always have a piece of my heart. I really couldn't thank them more," he said. "Baseball is so short and the game of life is so much bigger. This game has taught me so much It taught me to be a better man, it taught me to be a better person, it taught me to be a better father and it taught me to be a better teammate. It wasn't always easy. I'd be lying if I said I didn't get frustrated at times, but in the end, it made me a better person.''

For now, that road has led him to a renewed career, a second chance and a new city. Oh, and The Beard.

"When you're told to shave every day , you just say forget it after a while," Chamberlain said with a smile, possibly. It's hard to tell under all that hair.

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