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Jacobsen rewards Backers' patience
by Will Lingo
Sometimes, you strive for something so long and build it up so much in your mind that it can't live up to expectations when it actually happens.
And sometimes you're Bucky Jacobsen.
Jacobsen was a minor league folk hero who seemed destined to join the likes of Bubba Smith as players who labored long and honorably but never reached the majors.
But a breakout season in Triple-A earned Jacobsen his first big league callup with the Mariners in July. His name, his burly 6-foot-4 build and his personality already got fans' attention, and when he got off to a hot start he quickly became a fan favorite.
In addition to all that, Jacobsen also was notable because he had a legion of fans called the Bucky Backers, a claim few minor leaguers (or major leaguers, for that matter) can make. You may have read about the group in this space before the 2001 season.
"It's cool to have a fan club. It really is. I can't really believe I've got a fan club," Jacobsen said. "There are guys on this team with careers that you can measure, and so it makes sense they might have fan clubs. I don't see myself with that kind of career yet so that I would need a fan club, but it's kind of neat."
The Bucky Backers began following Jacobsen in 1998, when he was playing for Beloit in the Midwest League and Aaron Hayes and a group of his friends were attending a Kane County Cougars game. The group liked his name, then got to talk to him after the game and found out he was a cool guy.
"That's the main reason the whole thing started in the first place," said Hayes, who became president of the group. "It was a big joke that kept on going and going and going."
Celebrity In Seattle
The Bucky Backers followed Jacobsen's career closely—mostly from afar, only occasionally going to games—and set up a Website for others to do the same (buckybackers.com). They stayed with him from the Brewers to the Cardinals to the Mariners, who signed him over the winter and gave him an opportunity at Triple-A Tacoma. He batted .312-26-86 to earn a spot in the Triple-A all-star game, where he won the home run derby. He never got to play in the game because Seattle called him up.
"Obviously him having a great season in Triple-A was cool, and the exposure he got in the Triple-A all-star game was cool," Hayes said. "But to actually have him get called up was really neat."
Not only did Jacobsen get called up, but he also hit five home runs in his first two weeks with the club, including a couple of game-winners. It added up to instant notoriety for Jacobsen, a native of Hermiston, Ore., who grew up rooting for the Mariners.
Veterans joked that they were just "Bucky's teammates" now. The attention trickled down to Hayes, who was interviewed by numerous Seattle media outlets. "I'm amazed at the attention he's garnered," Hayes said.
It wasn't long ago that Hayes was wondering why he kept the Bucky Backers going. In the early years, after the group passed from joke to passion, there was optimism about Bucky's career.
Back then, Jacobsen was a decent prospect in the Brewers system making a slow but steady climb toward the big leagues. His career stalled, though, with the low point coming when he returned to Double-A Huntsville to start 2002 before the Brewers released him. The Cardinals signed him, and he played the rest of 2002 and all of 2003 in Double-A. When he became a minor league free agent, he chose to sign with the Mariners, which turned everything around.
Hayes, a high school math teacher in suburban Chicago, went with his father to see Jacobsen during spring training in Arizona. They saw him play and had lunch with Jacobsen and his girlfriend. "He was in the best mental space I've seen him in a long time," Hayes said. "He just said he was going to put up numbers they couldn't ignore, and that's pretty much what happened."
Hayes persevered with the club and the Website, figuring if Jacobsen was still pursuing his dream that he should also finish what he started.
"I don't have that much to do with it (day-to-day)," Jacobsen said. "Basically Aaron keeps it running. He's in touch with my agent, so guys who want to follow me aren't the last to know if something happens.
"Over the years I've left tickets for members of the fan club maybe a half-dozen times. So that's not much. But I like the interaction with them."
Jacobsen's winning attitude kept the Bucky Backers going, so when the Mariners come to play the White Sox in September, it won't just be Bucky living out his big league dream.
"When you're around him, his confidence is pretty infectious," Hayes said. "It's neat to see him be able to carry through on all the expectations people had."
You can contact Will Lingo by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.