While Seattle fans cheer the success that Hermiston native Bucky Jacobsen has had since his July call-up to the Major Leagues and the press follows the buzz he has caused around the Northwest, several former coaches are also enjoying his arrival with the Mariners.
Jacobsen's path to major league baseball was a long one but past coaches like Hermiston's Greg Schwirse were not all that shocked to see Jacobsen break into the big leagues.
"I was very excited for Bucky to get the call," Schwirse said. "He spent seven some years in the minors and I think it shows what kind of heart he has."
Jacobsen was called up from Triple-A Tacoma by the Seattle Mariners July 15. After hitting .318 with 26 home runs and 86 RBIs at Tacoma, Jacobsen was an immediate hit with the Mariners, belting three home runs in his first six games, including a 434-foot game-ending home run against Oakland.
"It's a neat thing," Schwirse said. "The community of Hermiston has really taken to him and I even saw a sign that said Bucky for Mayor."
Schwirse said the way Jacobsen was raised, coupled with his passion for the game are reasons why Bucky is playing professional baseball.
"We never knew for sure if he would make the big leagues," Schwirse said. "I'm not sure if he was the best athlete in high school, but he dedicated himself and became the best with hard work."
Schwirse spent time not only as Jacobsen's baseball coach, but also as a scout for the Philadelphia Phillies for two years, but had to give up scouting for his current job as an engineer with Union Pacific.
"It is amazing how difficult it is to get into the majors," Schwirse said. "You have to work extremely hard and the kids these days are mechanically better and it's competitive."
Former Hermiston High School head coach Rob Phillips, now in Silverton said, "It's one thing to be called up to the Majors, but to be the toast of the town, with 46,000 fans yelling and signs all over (Safeco Field); that's a whole different level."
Schwirse, who was the head coach at Blue Mountain Community College from 1991-1993, recruited Jacobsen from HHS in 1992.
"He hit the ball hard as a (BMCC) freshman and was a pretty darn good leader and kept the team loose," Schwirse said. "In his first college at bat, he hit a home run at Ontario."
While at BMCC, Schwirse said Bucky began to show signs of becoming a great baseball player and Lewis-Clark State College recruited him heavily.
"He didn't know what he had. I think by his sophomore year, he started figuring out a little bit that he could do some things in the game of baseball. To what extent, nobody knew, including Bucky," Brett Bryan, current BMCC head coach and former assistant said.
Jacobsen played at L-C State in 1995 and won an NAIA national championship with the Warriors before being drafted in the seventh round by the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 1996.
Bryan said Bucky's passion for the game is why he reached the Major Leagues.
"His sophomore year (at BMCC) ... he didn't put up great numbers, but he was very projectable," Bryan said. "L-C State is one of the premier programs and when he got there, that's when Bucky started to become a man and really started to understand the game. He became very disciplined and tough as a player."
Phillips recalled that Jacobsen was not a stand-out player when he was a freshman in high school. Jacobsen had, at that time, more experience in the pool swimming, than he had on the baseball diamond.
Jacobsen, then, was not even projectable to make the varsity as a sophomore, Phillips said. Standout athletes like Ryan Ferguson, Scott Clark, Aaron Donnally and Chad Wilcott came to Phillips' mind as he reflected back.
"That class had tons of talent," he said.
Phillips said that Jacobsen was always outgoing and, "He didn't want to be bad at anything he did," noting that Bucky was often the last to leave the field after practice, just to get in some extra work.
Jacobsen spent six years in the Brewers organization, playing A and AA baseball. Last year he played with the St. Louis Cardinals AA team prior to his move to Triple-A Tacoma.
"When he was in the Brewers organization, he had guys ahead of him. He was always putting up big numbers. He had the tools, I guess maybe he was in the wrong spot at the wrong time," Bryan said.
Schwirse originally began coaching Jacobsen in Babe Ruth baseball and at the American Legion level.
"He was just an ordinary kid, but he loved baseball more than anything," said Schwirse. "He worked just as hard as any of the kids, but a lot of his ability came later in high school."
Phillips said, at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds at the time, Jacobsen had a Major League body, but most importantly, had a Major League head for the game. An undying work ethic and solid support at home helped Jacobsen as well, Phillips said, recalling that Bucky never had excuses.
Schwirse has watched Bucky play several minor league games, but has yet to watch him play professionally.
"I am going to get up there (Seattle) and watch him before the season is done that's for sure," Schwirse said.
Bryan made a recent trip and Phillips said he watched the Red Sox series, but was unable to talk with Jacobsen, although he did run across a number of Hermiston residents. Phillips said he also has talked with some of Bucky's former L-C State teammates.
Years back, when scouts and coaches, including Jack Riley at Oregon State University, were looking at Ferguson and other Bulldogs, Phillips said he tried to get them to have a closer look at Jacobsen, but very few did.
Since his arrival in Seattle, Jacobsen has been the topic of discussion for many in the Northwest, Phillips said he has been stopped about 20 times by people who inquire about a connection with Jacobsen.
Major League effort
Jacobsen stats with Mariners
through Aug. 5
At bats 64
Home runs 6
Total bases 40
Strike outs 23