CHICAGO – As the innings came and went Wednesday and the sun slowly set over Wrigley field, coloring the Chicago skyline with shades of purples and blues, Jake Goebbert sat in the San Diego Padres dugout – waiting.
The left-handed hitting Hampshire graduate was not in the starting lineup against Cubs lefty Tsuyoshi Wada, a common tactical move by managers to minimize the impact of a breaking ball against same-handed players.
The decision left Goebbert unsure of how or when he might play. The uncertainty demanded that he stay flexible, focused and – most of all – patient.
Patience is a quality the rookie has honed through his slow, arduous climb through the minor leagues. Few make it all the way to a big-league ballpark. The odds get worse the later a prospect is drafted. Those selected in the 11th through 20th rounds have only an 11 percent chance of making it to "The Show," according to data from Baseball Reference.
For five years, Goebbert ascended through the minor leagues, while family and friends wondered when – or even if – their favorite 13th-round draft choice would get his shot.
“People would always ask, ‘How many years is he going to do it? How many more years? Does he wait until he’s 26? 28? 30?’” his father, Lloyd, said. “Those are some important questions. You can’t spend your life playing minor league ball.”
Jake admits that he began asking himself the same questions. When he was drafted in 2009, he was was barely old enough to have a legal drink and happy to have the chance to play his childhood game for a paycheck (even a relatively small one at that).
Shortly after last season, one in which he played only 21 games at the Triple-A level, the former Northwestern standout turned 26 years old. He and his high-school sweetheart, Heather, talked about starting a family, having kids, settling down. Jake briefly considered whether, perhaps, it was time to move on from the game.
He shared those thoughts with his mother, Terry, a person he's “laughed with” and “cried with.” He talked with his wife, whom he “couldn’t have done it without.”
And then he turned to his father, Lloyd.
“My dad just said, ‘If you stop now, you’re going to realize you could have done it,'” said Jake, who admitted there were times when his dad believed in his dream more than he did.
He also remembered the words his father told him time and again as he was growing up. People always say, “Good things come to those who wait.” But Lloyd saw an Abraham Lincoln quote when he was in high school, scribbled it down and ingrained it into his three children.
“Things may come to those who wait, but only what’s left by those who hustle,” Jake said without a moment’s hesitation when asked about it in the visitors’ clubhouse. “Never let yourself down, I think, is the biggest thing there. Always be working toward a goal. If you can do it, do it. Don’t take no for an answer.”
Which brings us back to Wednesday.
In the eighth inning, after the sky turned pitch black, Jake walked to the on-deck circle under the bright stadium lights. But he got no further. Chris Nelson grounded to second base to end the inning, and the Cubs switched to left-handed pitcher James Russell in the ninth.
Goebbert’s chances of playing Thursday in the series finale against Cubs right-hander Edwin Jackson are better than they were Wednesday. But will he for sure be penciled into the lineup? That's impossible to say with certainty.
So for now, the only thing to do is wait.