Joe Jacques gets to sleep in late these days.
Once he shakes the cobwebs out, he treks downstairs to see what Grandma Faye has on the breakfast menu. There he’s joined by any number of the other seven teammates he shares Faye’s large home with in Bristol, Tennessee.
Then it’s off to the ballpark for pre-game preparation before he suits up in his Bristol Pirates uniform for an Appalachian League game. It’s all baseball, all the time, and it’s not a bad baseball life for a player who had to earn his way onto the Manhattan College baseball team as a walk-on just a few years ago.
First, a note about his living digs.
“I got a pretty nice setup,” said Jacques, the former Jaspers lefthander who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in this past June’s Major League Baseball amateur draft. “This might sound crazy, but there are eight of us guys who were drafted that are all living in the same house. But it’s a big, big house. Faye even has the manager and trainer from the Kingsport Mets (another Appalachian League team) living in the downstairs.
“She does everything for us. The pantry is always stocked. It’s crazy. And we all have queen- or king-sized beds, and I even have my own room.”
And while his off-the-field accommodations are certainly first-rate, things are going pretty well on the field for Jacques as well. After a bumpy start to his professional career, Jacques has turned into a very dependable left arm out of the Pirates’ bullpen.
“Definitely in the first half of the season I was struggling for sure,” Jacques said. “But then I made some small adjustments physically and mentally, and now the second half of the season has been pretty shutdown for me. I think I’ve been proving to them that I’m one of our best guys out of the pen.”
The numbers back Jacques up as he has not been scored upon in six of his last eight outings covering a combined 11 innings. Jacques credits becoming more comfortable with his new catcher — and a change in attitude — with turning his season around.
“When you come from a college you’re fortunate to have played with kids like (former Manhattan catcher) Fabian (Peña) for four years because he knew everything I had and what I threw,” Jacques said. “I kind of got into a good rhythm with him because we had that connection. So it took time to build that kind of connection with our catchers here, but now that’s helping a lot.
“Also the mental part of it, just going out there and trusting your stuff instead of trying to be too perfect and thinking these guys are the best hitters in the world. So I just decided I was going to attack these guys because I know my stuff is good.”
One other adjustment Jacques has had to master is the pace of life in Bristol, a town of 26,702, known as “the birthplace of country music.”
“It’s definitely a lot slower down here compared to New York,” Jacques said, “but I’ve enjoyed it because you can get some peace and quiet here.”
Another benefit of being a Pirate in Bristol is the treatment from the locals. Yes, Jacques has achieved “rock star” status.
“Oh, for sure,” Jacques said, with a laugh. “We don’t really look like the people from around here. They easily can spot a Pirate when they see them. So pretty much everywhere you go, people ask you if you play for the Bristol Pirates. People will ask you for (autographed) baseballs no matter where you are.”
Becoming a Pirate has also brought Jacques something he never had before in his life — siblings who aren’t sisters.
“I’d say the best part of all this has been gaining 30-plus new brothers,” said Jacques, who has a sister, Jacqui, back home in Shrewsbury, New Jersey, with his mom Cindy and dad Bob.
“At first no one really knew each other, but now it’s just like we’re one big family. It’s just cool to interact and become friends with kids from all over the world.”
The Pirates’ roster contains players from the Dominican Republic, Curacao, Cuba, Mexico and two from South Africa.
The Pirates regular season ends Aug. 29 with a playoff spot still very much there for the taking. But whenever the season ends, Jacques will then be off to Bradenton, Florida, to the Pirates’ spring training complex for a few weeks in the Instructional League as he continues to pursue his baseball dream.
So far, so good.
“I’m glad to be part of this organization because I feel like they know what they’re doing,” Jacques said. “They know how to keep guys fresh and not burn them out. They take good care of their players here.”