CHICAGO – The announcer’s voice rumbled through the speakers at Wrigley Field, reverberating over the ivy-covered walls, through the bleacher seats and up to the rooftops across the street.
As he called out each of the San Diego Padres, one by one, the Friendly Confines were – well – not so friendly.
“Will Venable. Alexi Amarista. Seth Smith….” one after another, the visiting players were greeted coldly with no sign of so much as a golf clap.
Finally, he got to the sixth spot in San Diego’s order: “Batting sixth. First baseman. Jake Goebbert.”
The 100-year-old park was infused with a sudden jolt of energy coming from the first baseline, just beside the Padres’ dugout. Although the Goebbert supporters made up a small portion of the announced attendance of 32,730, they were maybe 250 strong and cheering as loudly as the rest of the combined fans did when the hometown team was announced.
It was a rousing welcome home from the family members who made the trip from Hampshire, as well as from the college buddies and old teammates who came from all around the Chicago area. But it hardly was unusual. Throughout five seasons of minor league baseball and three years of college ball, the 6-foot, 205-pound ballplayer has enjoyed unwavering support from family and friends.
“People stay in contact, from old coaches to family and friends,” Goebbertt said before the game. “It’s a very special and unique experience to be from a small town and to be able to play in your big city right next door.”
Two of his most loyal supporters are his grandparents, Jim and Ester Goebbert. When he was in the minor leagues, riding the busses through Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, his grandparents routinely were in the stands watching.
“I think my grandparents have probably seen 1,000 baseball games in my life,” Goebbert said. “They’ve probably seen more baseball games then anyone.”
Since his Major League Baseball debut June 20, they've stayed up late watching each at-bat on TV. After almost every game, when he gets back to the his locker to take off his grass-stained baseball pants, he finds a text from grandma waiting for him.
“She knows baseball,” Jake said. “Whether it’s a ‘nice walk’ or a ‘great play on defense,' it’s not always about the hits. It’s the little things. And she’s always sending support, saying, ‘I love you.’ ”
Grandma even predicted Jake would be traded from the Oakland Athletics' farm team to the Padres. She told him so much in a text message after he was out of the lineup for two days.
“She knew something before I did,” Jake said.
Jake's brother, James, has followed his brother's journey, just like his grandparents have. He said he has rooted harder for his brother and his teams than he has his own when he was a three-sport athlete at Hampshire, just like his older brother.
After high school, James and four buddies piled into his father’s Chevy pickup truck and drove seven hours to Lexington, Kentucky to surprise Jake. They arrived just as he was stepping to the on deck circle.
“Jake! Jake! Jake!” he heard them scream.
“That happens a lot, so you don’t usually turn around,” Jake said. “But I recognized his voice and (knew) it was my brother.”
He turned around and waved. Then, he stepped to the plate. On the first pitch, he cranked a deep home run to left-center field.
“I really think he likes pressure. He saw us and that pumped him up,” said James, a 23-year-old farmer in Union.
The other thing his brother notices about him?
“I’m not a scout, but one thing that always stood out to me is that he has a great eye,” he said.
Goebbert showed that in the fourth inning Tuesday, when he laid off some awfully enticing pitches to draw a two-out walk. He also lined sharply to first base for an out in the second inning and struck out in the seventh.
The Hampshire grad has two more games to prove he likes the pressure as much as his brother predicts. And if he does, you can bet there will be plenty of Goebberts there cheering.
Said his 19-year-old cousin, John Smith, “Sometimes it really hasn’t sunk in. I’m used to watching him at minor league games on TV or the computer. But when I see him on TV, I have to stop and remind myself: this is it. This is the majors. Everybody is watching this.”