Terry Goebbert leafed through the pictures on her kitchen counter one at a time, until, finally, she found just the right shot.
“I think this one just tells the story,” she said, smiling.
She glanced at the photo, where her son Jake smiled back from a chilly October afternoon 25 years earlier. Today he is a 26-year-old rookie on the San Diego Padres, preparing to play his first series at Wrigley Field, a ballpark just 45 miles from his home in Hampshire. But here, in this photo from 1989, he’s a 2-year-old standing in a pumpkin patch, clutching his first baseball bat.
“He was such an outdoors kid,” Terry said. “He loved the farm so much. His two loves in life were the farm and baseball.”
The Goebberts have been growing vegetables on their family farms almost as long as Wrigley Field has been growing ivy on its walls. Jake’s great-grandfather, George Goebbert, started farming in Arlington Heights in 1948 before his son, Jim, took over the business and moved his family to South Barrington in the early 1970s. Lloyd Goebbert continued the family tradition in 1985 when he moved his young family to Hampshire, where he grows corn, tomatoes, peppers, green beans and other summer vegetables on 600 acres of sprawling farmland.
After the harvest, the yard transforms into a fall destination, complete with a corn maze, hay rides and a petting zoo. Visitors from around Chicago's suburbs come to the Goebbert’s Pumpkin Patch to pick their own pumpkins and enjoy a genuine outdoor farming experience, something Jake had every day.
The farm was Jake’s passion. Looking back at the photo, Terry points to his other: the baseball bat. Lloyd whittled a 2x4 to create his son’s first bat, and Jake carried it everywhere.
“He always had a bat in his hand,” Terry said. “Whatever he’d see, he’d try to hit. If it was a leaf on a tree or a rock on the ground, he’d always be hitting something.”
About the time the photo was taken, Terry thought it would be a good idea to set up a batting tee in Jake’s playroom in the back of the house. She placed a plastic Wiffle ball on the tee and he smacked it squarely, sending it flying into the picture window in the front of the house.
It was clear that Jake had potential, even from a young age.
“That natural, classic left-handed swing,” Lloyd said.
Soon the playroom couldn’t contain Jake’s power, and in seventh grade his parents put a batting cage in the barn across from their house. Even as temperatures dropped close to single digits in early spring, Jake spent hours in the brown, wooden building, honing his swing and studying Ted William’s book “The Science of Hitting” like an instruction manual.
It took five years on the Astros’, Athletics’ and Padres’ farm teams to get to the big leagues. The coaching and the bus rides helped shaped Goebbert into the athlete he is today, but without a different kind of farm system – a much more literal one – he likely wouldn’t be where he is today.
After baseball, his parents aren’t sure where Goebbert will go. He may finish his psychology degree and find work in that field. Or he might come right back home and follow the path of his grandfather, father and brother have taken.
“I think he liked the atmosphere he grew up in enough to try to give that to his kids,” Lloyd said.