The first time Kirby Smith was asked by Jim Goebbert to watch Goebbert’s 16-year-old grandson at the Goebbert's farm, the former Barrington High School baseball coach came away impressed.
Jake Goebbert reminded Smith of a former player he coached almost 25 years ago at Barrington: former Seattle Mariners catcher Dan Wilson.
“The best way I would describe Jake Goebbert is he has a terrific work ethic,” Smith said. “Jake and Danny Wilson had similar work ethics and insights to the game that most kids don’t have. When I met Jake, I recognized the same attributes that Dan Wilson had.”
Goebbert and the San Diego Padres will be at Wrigley Field starting Tuesday for a three-game series against the Cubs, the first time Goebbert will play in Chicago as a major leaguer.
Goebbert' i hitting .268 with a homer in his first 41 major league at-bats.
In high school, Goebbert was a multisport athlete at Hampshire, playing football and basketball, too. Smith, who continues working with Goebbert as his hitting coach between seasons, said playing multiple sports made a difference.
“It gives you a glimpse into the type of leadership he possesses,” Smith said. “That’s an intangible that some athletes don’t understand or don’t have. There lies the difference between competing against somebody who has a little edge on ability, but don’t have the edge on commitment.”
Hampshire baseball coach John Sarna saw Goebbert’s drive when the then-Jacobs coach's team played Hampshire. Sarna said Goebbert was an influence at accepting the Hampshire job in 2011.
“You can see he had what it takes to bring his skills to [the majors],” Sarna said. “You could see there was nothing stopping him getting to his goal.
“He’s someone we all look at in the Hampshire community as someone doing things the right way,” Sarna said.
Entering Northwestern, Goebbert was far from a complete player. While he was a talented prospect, Sarna felt his power would have to increase.
Enter Paul Stevens, Goebbert’s coach at Northwestern.
He recognized that Goebbert had a great swing. It was his job to help Goebbert get stronger and help shape Goebbert further into a major league prospect.
“You just knew the way he carried his way on the field, he was going to be a difference maker,” Stevens said. “Physically, Jake became a man. He never ever was someone who wasn’t always talking baseball.
“As you get older and start to mature, you start to understand yourself better,” he said. “I think that’s why Jake Goebbert eventually evolved into the individual he is today. By just utilizing the people around him and what they had to say, he made it his own.”
Stevens said Goebbert was always in the weight room, hitting cages or film study. Taking all that in was Nate Roberts, Goebbert’s teammate for the 2008 season and a former Richmond-Burton standout.
Like Goebbert, Roberts was a three-sport athlete in high school, and the two players often went head-to-head in high school. The two met when Goebbert was a sophomore in high school and train together in the offseason.
“One of the reasons I went to Northwestern was to play with him,” said Roberts, who is now a minor league player with the Minnestoa Twins' Advanced-A Fort Myers Miracle. “I felt he was a lot like me. When I first met him, he took me under his wing and then it was a really good experience playing with him. He works hard and is a good friend.”
Another area Stevens tried to get Goebbert ready for was being dynamic at multiple positions. At Hampshire, Goebbert played outfield and pitched. Stevens wanted to prepare him by having Goebbert play first base.
“We said that, if you want to do things later in your career, you’re going to have to have options,” Stevens said. “[Major league teams] were taking a lot of the older guys who are better hitters and moving them over to first base. You have to give yourself options.
"Jake was going to be on the field no matter what because he can hit, but somebody of his age who wanted to be in the lineup every day, he was going to have to do some other things.”
Goebbert was successful at Northwestern, hitting .335 his freshman season and then .353 the next year, breaking a 31-year-old school record with 22 doubles.
As a junior, he started 30 games before a season-ending injury. The Houston Astros still selected Goebbert in the 12th round.
“It was a really rough time for him, but you could just see [Astros picking him] did nothing but revitalize and rejuvenate him,” Stevens said.
Goebbert spent three years with the Astros’ organization, making his way up from Single-A to Triple-A. Goebbert’s best season in the Astros’ farm system came in 2012, when he hit .304 for the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks.
The Astros traded him to the Oakland Athletics for Travis Blackley in 2013. Goebbert then played for the AA Midland Rockhounds for 105 games, where he batted .268 with 18 home runs and also played 21 games for the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats.
Goebbert began 2014 with the River Cats. Now 26, Goebbert was five years removed from Northwestern and still plugging away before getting a fresh start when the A’s traded him to the San Diego Padres for first baseman Kyle Blanks.
Goebbert then appeared in 32 games for the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas, hitting .270. But it was a game June 18 that would end up being memorable for Goebbert and Smith, who was in Davenport ready to watch the game.
“That particular night Jake said to me, ‘The manager scratched me’,” Smith said. “After the game, [El Paso head coach Pat Murphy] advised Jake that he was going to be promoted to the major leagues. That itself was a neat experience.”
On June 20, Goebbert made his professional debut – registering one hit in one at-bat.
He’s played in 18 games since, filling in as a pitch hitter, outfielder and first basemen. On July 9, Goebbert hit his first career home run against the Colorado Rockies.
“It’s kind of an interesting scenario that his first home run was against the Rockies because it has been a rocky road along the way,” Stevens said. “It’s been a journey.”