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Mudville: January 25, 2021 9:27 pm PDT
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Mr. Call Up: Mike Jacobs

"He threw like 88, but that pitch looked like it came at me at 102."

As Spitballin’ comes to you this December 25, BallNine wonders if the Miami Marlins reached out to this week’s guest, Mike Jacobs, to wish him a Merry Christmas.

Or perhaps they wished Jacobs, currently a manager in their minor league system, a Happy Hanukkah on December 10.

You see, when Jacobs was a player for the Marlins in 2006, the franchise held a Jewish Heritage Night and gave away a free Mike Jacobs t-shirt that game. The big problem was bubkes: it was that Jacobs is not Jewish.

The Marlins insisted that it was a coincidence that the two promotions were entwined. They swore that it was happenstance that the t-shirt giveaway and Jewish celebration were marketed together in the same advertising. An unintended mitzvah. They scoffed at the idea that they could have just assumed Jacobs was Jewish based on his last name without doing the proper reconnaissance.

Jacobs, for his part, took the apparent misunderstanding in stride. At the time, he said, “I don’t know what happened. They told me there was no connection. It’s not a big deal.”

The incident might be a fun curiosity to revisit on this Christmas Day, and for those who follow BallNine, you had to know the opportunity to have some fun with this would not pass without offering.

These days, Jacobs is a young manager in the Marlins’ farm system with a bright future as a skipper. After playing the 2016 season split between the Toros de Tijuana in the Mexican league and the Lancaster Barnstormers in the Atlantic League, Jacobs retired as a player and immediately found a job managing in the Marlins organization.

In 2019, he led the Clinton LumberKings to a 78-61 record and an appearance in the Midwest League finals.

As a player, Jacobs was known for his prodigious power from the left side and his historic debut with the Mets in 2005.

Jacobs hit a pinch-hit three run homer in his first at bat and after going 0-4 in his next game, Jacobs went 6-8 with three more homers in his next two games, becoming the first player in Major League history to hit four home runs in his first four games.

Jacobs played seven years in the Majors and hit an even 100 career home runs, including 32 in an outstanding 2008 season.

Whatever your denomination, pour yourself a glass of eggnog, throw a yule log on the fire and let’s go Spitballin’ with Mike Jacobs.

Thanks for joining us today, Mr. Jacobs. I’m looking forward to talking to you about your playing career and also your thoughts about what’s going on in minor league baseball, but first let’s go back to your childhood. How did you get your start in baseball as a kid?

I came from a baseball family. My father played a lot of sports in high school and we were into sports. We were just that kind of family. My brother played baseball and he’s a little older than me, so I did too.

Were you a Padres or Dodgers fan growing up in Southern California? 

I was actually an Atlanta Braves fan. We had TBS and their games were always on, so I grew up watching a ton of their games. They were always in the playoffs too, so I remember being in my room and watching so many of their games.

At what point did you think you might have a future as a professional baseball player?

To be honest, that was something I always wanted to do. Even growing up in elementary school, the teachers would ask the class what we would want to be when we grew up and I would always say I wanted to be a professional baseball player.

The teachers would laugh at me and tell me to think of something else because there’s not too many people who can do that. But I always thought that they didn’t understand. I would say, “No, this is what I want to do.” As a kid you hope, but then my senior year I got noticed.

“I was pretty cocky when I was younger, especially around that time. There was kind of this look on my face where I was just like, “Yeah, that’s right!”

What was it like to finally get drafted out of high school? Did you know that was coming?

In high school we would play in what was called the Lions Tournament against schools like Rancho Bernardo and El Capitan, schools that would always bring a lot of scouts. I had some games where I really played well. The scouts started giving me those cards to fill out after the games.

Once that started happening, it was really exciting. I started wondering what was next. I had a great senior year and ultimately got drafted by the Devil Rays, but I didn’t end up signing. It was a draft and follow. I played a year at Grossmont College and the Mets drafted me the next year.

Did you know the Mets had interest in drafting you?

Well, it was kind of weird because I had some things happen with the scout from the Devil Rays that left a bad taste in my mouth. So, when I got drafted the second time, I wasn’t even home. I was out with my buddies hanging on the beach.

My mom was trying to get a hold of me, and this was before cell phones, so she was blowing up my pager. Finally, I went to my buddy’s house and called her. She told me the Mets drafted me in the 38th round. I said, “Well what did they even draft me for?”

Did you consider going back to college for another year?

Even though it was a very late round, I called them anyway. The Mets told me they didn’t see me too much, but what they did see they liked. They asked if I was going to be playing anywhere and I told them I had plans to play in a wood bat league. They said they’d like to come watch me play, so I gave them my schedule. They came to the games and I ended up playing well.

They liked what they saw and said they should have drafted me higher. They told me they were lucky to draft me when they did. They came to my house and negotiated a little bit and while I wouldn’t say I got great money, I did a lot better than a 38th rounder should do, so I jumped on it. I just wanted to go play.

You rose up through the Mets system pretty steadily and even won Sterling Awards as team MVPs in 2003 and 2005. What was your minor league experience like?

I had a real good year my first year playing in the Gulf Coast League and that kind of opened some eyes in the organization. I had a couple of decent years after that then 2003 was my breakout season. I was still really young when I was drafted, so I was still figuring out my body.

Then I started getting bigger and stronger and when I had that really good year in 2003, that’s when it started hitting me that one of these days, I had a chance to get called up.

You were drafted as a catcher but had a position change to first base in the upper levels in the minors. How was that transition?

Well, in 2004 I had shoulder surgery. I played a handful of games at AAA, but I had to have surgery and missed most of the season. They ended up sending me back to AA the next year and at that moment, I thought, “Well, I don’t belong here.” That put a chip on my shoulder and I just said to myself, “I’m going to show them I don’t belong here.” I ended up having an even bigger year and that was when I got called up.

Pretty interesting you took that approach to being disappointed like that. What was it like to be called up to that 2005 Mets team that had so many veterans? They had three Hall of Famers, could have four with Carlos Beltran and that doesn’t even include David Wright or Jose Reyes? How were you received on that team?

I had been in Big League camps before and came up with some of those guys too, so I had a good relationship with a lot of them. David Wright flew up through the organization, so he was establishing himself. You mention the veteran guys on the team, Piazza, Pedro Martinez, Glavine. The list goes on. Cliff Floyd and Mike Cameron.

It’s funny, when I sit back and think about it now, I’m like, “I can’t believe I played with all of those stars. Those are the guys you see on TV and you’re like those are the guys.” What was cool about it for me was that as a catcher, I had been to Big League camp before, so I wasn’t star struck. When I walked through the door, I just expected to see those guys. What was really cool though was that all of those guys were super cool to me. It made me really feel like I belonged an on such a veteran team, that was really cool to me.

That’s so awesome to hear. Your career couldn’t have gone off to a better start, in fact, it was downright historic. Let’s start with hitting a home run in your first at bat. You were just the fourth Met to do that, take us through that experience.

I was having a real good season when I was called up. I was coming off something like a 22-game hitting streak in the minors, so I was hot. I wasn’t in the lineup, so I was sitting and watching. We were getting blown out against the Nationals and I don’t think our starter made it out of the first inning. They needed a pinch hitter early, so they sent me up there. They didn’t want to use an experienced guy early.

It was a great opportunity to throw me in there, but I was nervous. It wasn’t an overwhelming feeling like I didn’t belong though. It was a packed house, and I was watching every lefty that game. Esteban Loaiza was pitching, and I noticed that he started every lefty with a fastball. If it was a strike, he followed that up with a changeup. That’s exactly what he did to me.

That’s great to hear you studied like that and got the better of a veteran guy like Loaiza.

He threw me a fastball for a strike, and I didn’t even see it. He threw like 88, but that pitch looked like it came at me at 102. The next pitch he threw me that changeup and it went out of the yard. There’s probably no better feeling.

Absolutely! Do you remember what you were thinking running around the bases?

I don’t really remember. I was pretty cocky when I was younger, especially around that time. There was kind of this look on my face where I was just like, “Yea, that’s right!” Looking back now I say, “Man, you’re an idiot.” But I don’t really remember what I was thinking, it just kind of happened.

I remember the fans – it was really loud. I remember my now wife was in the stands and I gave her a point and went to the dugout. Then it was over and we went to Arizona.

And that’s where your legend grew. You ended up hitting three more homers and were the first player to ever hit four homers in your first four games. Do you ever think about the fact that guys like Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig never did that, but you did?

It’s really cool. Everything just lined up perfectly. I was in a good spot hitting-wise in general. I was having such a good year already and coming to Arizona was really cool. I didn’t expect to be starting the next day, but I was. I remember thinking to myself, “Man, am I really ready to catch?” But then they told me I was playing first base and I was like, “Oh, OK, I can do that.”

The first game [in Arizona] I hit a couple balls hard but didn’t get any hits. I had a bunch of family in town too, and it was really cool for them to see me play, but I told them after the game that I probably wasn’t going to start tomorrow. I got to the field and ended up being in the lineup again and hit another homer. Then the next night I hit two more.

It was a cool little run, and it was something I’ll never forget. My mom saved a bunch of the articles and has them all framed. It was awesome. Really at the time I was just happy to be there and contribute to the team.  

You did more than contribute that year, hitting 11 home runs in just 30 games. But then after the season, the Mets traded you to the Marlins in the Carlos Delgado deal. Did the trade come as a surprise to you?

Yes, I was surprised. I was down in Venezuela playing winter ball and it was around Thanksgiving. Someone came and told me it was in the paper or on the internet that I had been traded. Next thing I knew, I got a phone call saying that I was traded and needed to come home.

You had three good years in Florida, hitting 69 home runs including 32 in 2008. What did you think of your time with the Marlins?

I also felt like I was a guy who could hit 30 homers if I stayed healthy and played full time, so it was good to do that. The year before I hit 17 and was hurt a little. 2008 was the first time I played every single day and we had a fun team.

You look back at the team and all the guys that were there, and it was just special. We had [Dan] Uggla, Hanley Ramirez, Jorge Cantu and there were just so many homers hit on that team. We fed off of each other and we went on playing hard and had a lot of success.

That Marlins team came out of nowhere to have a great year and you guys were one Cantu homer away from having four 30-homer guys. Now after your playing days were done, you went right into managing a minor league team. Was that always a goal of yours?

Yes, actually it was. Towards the end of my career, I was playing in AAA and thinking of what to do next when I stopped playing. At the time, I was trying to get back to the Big Leagues, but at the same time, they paid pretty good for veterans in AAA. So, I was also playing for a paycheck because I didn’t want to do anything else outside of baseball.

Everything has to come to an end though and I wanted to stay in baseball, so I thought about coaching and I knew I wanted to manage. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a hitting coach or pitching coach, but I just wanted to be a leader and wanted to be that voice in the clubhouse. I wanted to teach the game too and being a manager gives you the freedom to do all of that.

Our BallNine Bucks say.... 20 bucks that Mike Jacobs is at least a bench coach by 2022.

That is so damn amazing to hear you have that passion for the game. You jumped right from playing in 2016 to being a manager in 2017. How were you able to make that jump?

I just started throwing out emails to people in multiple organizations looking for an opportunity. Joe Dillon was one of the first people to call me. He was one of the hitting coordinators for the Marlins. He called to see if I would be interested in a hitting coach job. I told him that I really wanted to manage, and he was trying to talk me out of it saying I should start in a hitting coach role before managing.

I was really persistent though saying I wanted to manage. Some other people called me after that, and they interviewed me for a manager job, and I got it. I was really fortunate, and I have been loving it ever since.  

In 2019 you managed the historic Clinton LumberKings, the oldest team in the Midwest League. Guys like Clyde Sukeforth and Jim Leyland managed there. They were one of the teams that were cut by Major League Baseball. As a minor league manager, what is your opinion as to what is happening to these minor league teams?

I probably don’t know enough of the inside workings of what is going on. We know what we read and I don’t know much more than what I read on the internet. I don’t know that it’s bad, but I don’t know that it’s good either. It’s a shame because I know there’s a lot of people who lost their jobs and that just sucks.

These jobs are hard to come by and when you start reducing the number of jobs, it makes things even harder. That’s kind of scary for a lot of people. It’s even scary for people like me who still have jobs not knowing what might happen next.

It’s also going to suck for a lot of those small towns that are now going to be unaffiliated. Hopefully they’ll be able to do something with the other leagues they’re planning. I just hope they’re able to keep these places from losing teams permanently.

I think all of the indecision is really difficult for a lot of people and I hope it all works out for you and everyone else involved. Best of luck to you and your team when the minor leagues start playing again, hopefully in 2021. My last question for you is just asking if you have any final reflections about your career that you can leave our readers with?

I think my career is proof that dreams do come true. When you work hard and set your mind to something, you can achieve your goals. My goal was to play in the Major Leagues, and I was able to do that. I enjoyed every second of it. It’s a lot of hard work, but it paid off and it was worth it.

I am lucky to still be in the game now as a coach and just like anything else, it’s all about hard work. But you know the old saying, if you love what you’re doing, you won’t work a day in your life. That has been true with my career and I feel fortunate enough to still be doing it.   

Rocco is a baseball writer with too much time on his hands who lives in the dusty corners of Baseball Reference. He was one half of the battery for the 1986 Belleville Recreation Farm League Champion Indians. He likes early 20th century baseball nicknames, pullover polyester jerseys and Old Hoss Radbourn. He works as a College Athletics Director and his second book will be out in April 2021.

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