The unofficial tour guide has replaced his usual work headwear, the navy baseball cap with white interlocking “SD,” with one more indigenous.
It reads “Goebbert’s Pumpkin Patch.”
“You ever see a giraffe up close?” he asks, walking up the ramp to look a pair of them in the eyes while handing one a small carrot.
Next, there is a whole tent of exotic animals – with macaws, kangaroos, zebu (humped) cattle among the lot.
“The really cool one’s coming up,” he says, arriving at the cage of a white siberian tiger, leisurely lounging on straw and licking his paws. “I used to get in there when they brought small ones and play with them. This guy’s too big.”
Jake Goebbert, who did much of his summer work at a place called Petco Park, feels at home back among these animals who are visiting his family’s farm in Hampshire. Business booms each fall, and Goebbert, who spent almost half his baseball season with the San Diego Padres, did not want to miss it.
“It’s part of my life, you know,” Goebbert said. “Baseball and the pumpkin patch are eerily similar in some ways. They’re both entertainment businesses, we both have to handle large crowds for a short period of time. It’s a very special thing. You grow up getting to know this, and it’s taught me some major lessons in my life – how to be approachable, how to talk to people – just the whole business aspect of it is something I always hold close to my heart.”
Some day, after baseball, Goebbert expects he’ll be here for good. Until then, he’ll help his parents, Lloyd and Terry, when he can around their sprawling farm that features train and camel rides, a cannon that shoots pumpkins a third of a mile, huge slides, just about anything a youngster would find interesting and a seemingly endless supply of pumpkins.
Goebbert received word of his major league promotion June 17 while playing for the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas of the Pacific Coast League. There, he played for manager Pat Murphy, who, while he was an assistant coach at Florida Atlantic, coached Lloyd.
Lloyd, Terry and Jake’s brother James quickly found a flight to San Diego on June 18 and were there to see Jake, a left-handed hitter and thrower, get his an RBI single in his first major-league at-bat June 19 against Los Angeles pitcher Dan Haren.
Goebbert later was sent back to El Paso for a few weeks, went on a hitting tear there and eventually was recalled by the Padres in August. He spent the rest of his season with San Diego, hitting .218 with one home run and 10 RBIs.
About a month before he was called up, Goebbert had been in Oakland’s organization. So walking into the major-league clubhouse the first time was both thrilling and slightly awkward.
“That was the weirdest day, going in that clubhouse,” he said. “Usually, you go to spring training and you get to know a couple of the [major league] guys. To meet a whole new team for the third time in a year was interesting. Baseball’s a fraternity, and once you get to know people, everybody’s connected in some way.”
Goebbert, who had his 27th birthday last month, was living his lifelong dream.
“It’s one of the few things that completely lived up to every expectation I ever had,” Goebbert said. “It was truly incredible. I wish every baseball player could experience the big leagues, even for a day. The best way to describe it is everything works more efficiently. In the game, outside the game, the travel, everything’s more efficient.
“The pitchers are a little bit better, the defense is a little bit faster, there’s less errors, the lights are better – that stuff makes a difference. It all adds up to being a very special experience.”
Goebbert says he tried, every day, to walk out into whatever stadium and just soak in the moment.
“I really made a strong effort to try and appreciate it every day,” he said.
Goebbert and his wife, Heather, live in Pingree Grove, near the farm. Heather works as a nurse at Presence Saint Joseph Hospital in Elgin, although hospital administration found extra time off for her during the season and she was able to travel and see several Padres games.
On Nov. 1, the farm will close its fall business and Goebbert will get back to working out and baseball. He will train with Cary-Grove graduate Alex Kube, the co-owner at Elite 7 in Lake Barrington.
“I trained with them last year. They really did a good job getting me ready for the season,” Goebbert said.
He will go through hitting sessions with former Barrington coach Kirby Smith, who coached Lloyd in high school. At some point in January, Goebbert will go to San Diego for a few days and work with Padres hitting coach Phil Plantier and assistant Alonzo Powell as a tune-up before spring training.
There also will be his hitting sessions on the farm, just like when Goebbert was growing up, with one exception.
“I’ll set up the [pitching] machine in the greenhouse because it’s easier to heat than the barn,” said Goebbert, referring to his former hitting spot.
Goebbert also works with a machine that shoots tennis balls with different colored dots, about the size of a dime, on each one. It’s for tracking balls deeper into the strike zone, as well as picking up things quicker out of the pitcher’s hand.
“The next goal would be to make the team out of camp,” Goebbert said. “My personal goal is to be up there more than I was this year. It’s going to be a lot of getting stronger. After that experience I’ve rediscovered what I need to work on. I kind of thought of my first year in the big leagues as a fresh start. I had a lot of success early, and opportunity wasn’t necessarily there as much toward the end, but after my exit meeting I felt very positive with the direction of where I was going.”
Goebbert felt his exit meeting with Padres manager Bud Black, bench coach Dave Roberts, Plantier and Powell was positive.
“They said I executed what they wanted me to do, filled my role of lefty off the bench and a guy who can play outfield and can play a good first base,” Goebbert said. “They were happy with how I handled things in the clubhouse.”
For now, Goebbert enjoys helping out with the fall rush like he has most years, whether that means firing pumpkins out of cannons, supervising the kids’ slide or announcing the pig races, calling out names such as Albert Sweinstein, Arnold Schwarzenhogger and Al Boar.
Some visitors are aware of Goebbert’s celebrity and ask for pictures or autographs.
“More than I expected, to be honest,” he said. “It’s nice, it’s rewarding. I enjoy being able to come back and be a normal guy, be the same guy that I always was. I’m no different, I’m just blessed with an opportunity and I’m looking to take full advantage of it.”