Greg Jacobs: Mission on a Mission

Missions OF Greg Jacobs (Seattle Mariners)

San Antonio Missions outfielder Greg Jacobs is on a path that very few athletes care to take. The left-handed slugger is playing through more than just cold weather, tough pitching, and a sore heel. Check out what Jacobs told InsidethePark.com's Joe Weiss about his approach to the game and what is inspiring his recent torrid streak.

Watching him play, watching him swat fastballs like they were cantalope-sized and arriving across the plate in slow motion, watching him push his ludicrously high batting-average (.519) and slugging-percentage (1.074) even higher, you'd never suspect he was hurting.

But Greg Jacobs is in pain, and it's not just pain of the physical sort.

"I've got a lot of things on my mind right now," the Missions left-fielder told InsidethePark.com in a pre-game interview on Thursday, his eyes betraying the fact even before his words could. "I've got a grandma and grandpa that aren't doing too well."

Jacobs' grandmother has a tumor on her lung and, he explained, is too old for the rigors of surgery. Soon, and she'll begin radiation therapy to stave off an inevitability he appeared to regard with a soft-spoken but obvious trepidation.

"They're struggling," he added, as if there were any doubt.

It's his refusal to hide from grief, however, his insistence on taking an emotional monkey wrench with the potential to grind to a halt the machinery of his gameplay and using it for a club, instead, which reveals a champion's heart.

"I know that probably one of my grandparents' biggest things is that they want to see me play in the big leagues," he said. "I'm just trying to use [the cancer] as motivation to get there so that they can see me."

This philosophy is nothing new for Jacobs; even before his grandmother's diagnosis, he was on the way to realizing the importance in mastering the Zen-like ability to cope with, or even exploit, the mind's many distractions.

"This game is so mental and so little physical it makes me laugh a little," Jacobs, 23 at the time, wrote in a 2000 article for www.futureangels.com entitled, "The Mental Part of the Game." "I read a quote the other day by Michael Jordan talking about how many times he has missed a key shot…What made him succeed was failing and having himself fail under the spotlight. That is what has made him so great today. All it did is made him work harder and longer.

"[Your problems] can burn you if you let them get to you," he continues in the article. "You just have to check yourself and see if you can beat them and leave them at the door before you step onto the field."

And so far, beat them he has; from his very first at-bat this season, when he connected for a solo shot off of the Midland's Mike Ziegler, Jacobs has been instilling in opposing pitchers the kind of fear and uncertainty he, himself, has learned to conquer. In particular, it's been the Rockhounds who've suffered his free-swinging wrath: in the second game of the season-opening five game road-trip against the ‘Hounds, Jacobs pounded doubles in both the second and fourth frames, extra-base knocks that served as mere preludes to his seventh-inning pièce de résistance of both a single and a grand-slam.

Perhaps, then, there's some irony in the fact that, after spending two games manhandling the Rockhounds, it took an actual rock to slow him down.

"There's this little ledge at the hotel [in Midland], and I just stepped over it and my heel just landed straight on a rock," he explained. "It hurts bad."

And his bruised heel hurt the Missions, too, who had to go without their molten-hot player for three games. Upon returning, though, Jacobs immediately began where he'd left off, clubbing two doubles and a three-run homer and leading a shell-shocked El Paso pitching staff to wonder whether that rock hadn't actually been made of kryptonite.

Jacobs began his career as a pitcher, and acknowledges that the transformation to an outfielder has given him several advantages now that he stands on the other side of the plate.

"I used to sit down with (Anaheim pitching coach) Bud Black during the off-season," he said. "We would talk about pitching - pitching against the hitters, setting hitters up. Now I'm flip-flopping it."

Meanwhile, opposing Texas League managers are flip-flopping in their beds at night instead of sleeping, suffering uneasy dreams of a California-born hitter who reaches safely every other at-bat, was taught to "trust your wrists" by Major League great Rod Carew, and refuses to be psyched out.

It's enough to turn a skipper's hair gray, to force a Seattle Mariners' scout to salivate, and to make a grandparent proud.

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