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Jenks shows maturation

Jenks shows maturation

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TUCSON, Ariz. -- Bobby Jenks planned to shave his head before the end of Spring Training.

This hair-sheering act might even add to the right-hander's already intimidating mound presence brought about by a fastball often checking in near 100 mph and a knee-buckling curve. But this particular buzz cut has a special meaning for the White Sox closer.

Jenks will go bald as part of the St. Baldrick's Foundation annual drive to raise funds for kids' cancer research. This act also will be done in conjunction with the eighth graders at Most Holy Redeemer in Evergreen Park, Ill., where they have all decided to shave their heads as a show of support for classmate Michael Healy, who is battling bone cancer.

The act of kindness simply serves as another example of the personal growth for the affable reliever, who turns 26 on March 14. And like the pictures he has of his children, Cuma and Nolan, as they move from infancy to toddlers with their own personalities, snapshots also exist of Jenks' maturation process as part of the White Sox organization.

It's just that some of Jenks' pictures were nationally televised or taken in front of 50,000 people.

Snapshot 1: Spring Training, 2007 -- A conference call

After a recent workout, Jenks slipped into one of the White Sox offices at the Kino Sports Complex and held a conversation by phone with this special group of eighth graders living in a southwest suburb of Chicago. Jenks explained how his head was being shaved on March 12, an act that will be caught by television cameras, and the same process will happen for the eighth graders.

Asked about the compassion shown by these kids, especially when looks can mean so much during the early stages of being a teenager, and Jenks could only smile.

"That's pretty nice, isn't it?" Jenks said. "That's good friends right there."

Some time around Christmas, Jenks was asked to be involved with St. Baldrick's, a group founded in 1999. According to the organization's website, events have taken place in 10 countries and 42 states, raising over $20 million, while shaving more than 26,000 heads.

Jenks soon will be counted among the latter statistic, explaining how he's growing out his hair for more of a show. But what really thrills Jenks is helping the eighth graders at Most Holy Redeemer honor their friend.

"He's a great kid," said Jenks of Healy, the stricken young man. "Hearing that sort of thing, it's really nice to be able to be part of something like that. It's a great feeling when you hear the excitement in their voices."

Snapshot 2: Dec. 2006 -- A Christmas party

With plenty of entertainment and goodie bags for each child who attended, it was hard to find a sad face among the 600 children from local Boys & Girls Clubs who took part in the White Sox festivities at U.S. Cellular Field. Jenks, who was joined by teammates Jim Thome and Brandon McCarthy, seemed to be having as much fun as the kids.

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Wearing a Santa hat, Jenks would deliver hot dogs to the respective kids by pointing to their smiling faces and then firing a fastball. The hot dogs weren't clocked at 100 mph, but it served the purpose and the smiles grew even bigger.

It was a busy offseason for Jenks, who took up permanent residence in a western suburb of Chicago with his wife, Adele, and 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son. Jenks took part in lighting Chicago's Christmas tree at the Sears Tower, made sales calls for the White Sox and filmed a public service announcement for St. Baldrick's.

Those examples marked Jenks' scheduled responsibilities. There's also his unofficial development into one of the more recognizable White Sox figures, another job he thoroughly embraced.

"Every time I go out, I get a chance to see Sox fans no matter where I'm at," Jenks said. "They are always more than welcome to come on up if I'm out. That's what it's all about.

"I want to show that I care. It's nice to be able to put my face out there as a White Sox player, not just in my teammates' eyes but in the public eyes."

Snapshot 3: Game Four of the 2005 World Series at Minute Maid Park

Jenks arrived on the scene from Double-A Birmingham on July 6, 2005, and immediately presented a sign of things to come by striking out two hitters in his one inning of relief against Tampa Bay. He also hit 99 mph on the U.S. Cellular Field radar gun, drawing audible gasps from the crowd.

Before the season was complete, Jenks was on the mound watching shortstop Juan Uribe throw a strike on the move to first baseman Paul Konerko, completing the franchise's first championship in 88 years. Jenks became an instant icon, the first rookie to earn a save in a World Series-clinching game. More intense scrutiny came with that star status.

During Spring Training, 2006, Jenks' weight increase became an ongoing issue. Over the past two weeks, a slip-up in mechanics leading to brief shoulder pain became his Cactus League problem. To Jenks' credit, adjustments were made and both problems were fixed summarily.

His focus on immediate change, which might not have been present during his slightly more troublesome days as an Angels prospect, dates back to what he accomplished during the 2005 campaign.

"Everyone who is up and down, once they are up, they never want to leave," Jenks said. "Being able to see what's in front of me makes it easier to work harder to get to that point."

"I see a little bit more maturity overall," added White Sox general manager Ken Williams of Jenks. "I can't be more proud of Bobby Jenks, the way he's conducted himself on the field and the way he's grown off the field."

Snapshot 4: The end of the 2006 season -- White Sox clubhouse

A few hours prior to a home contest last September, Jenks sat in front of his locker with his two children. At one point, he spun each one on his chair, drawing laughter and cries of "go faster" from his son and daughter. The broad smile on Jenks' face made it seem as if he also wanted a turn.

Past transgressions that befell Jenks while he was with the Angels were nothing more than problems a typical 19- or 20-year-old kid would go through in college, by Jenks' estimation. But he readily admits that having a supportive family has changed his way of thinking.

In just two short years, Jenks has gone from a top prospect with a reputation of having slightly suspect character to one of the shining faces of the White Sox organization. He now has a family both on and off the field.

"He's taken a step in being comfortable in his Major League shoes," Williams said.

"Bobby knows he's loved here, and not only for his performance on the field," added White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper. "He has grown-up responsibilities. He's showing more and more signs of taking life in the direction he always wanted it to go."

"Things seem to happen for a reason," Jenks added. "The combination of everything I've gone through helped me get to where I am right now. It was a long walk but each step I took was about building and growth."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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