A family affair: UB softball's biggest fans
UB softball didn't officially play a home game at Nan Harvey Field until April 3 –– its 29th game of the season. The Bulls dominated against a 1-27 Akron Zips team, beating them 16-1. The 16 runs were the most scored in a single game all season as freshman left fielder Anna Aguon led the offensive explosion, driving in seven.The Bulls played in sub-forty-degree weather along with 74 freezing fans in attendance. One fan stuck out among the rest.
Situated behind home plate, Laureen Jacobs was prepared. Wearing two jackets, a scarf, hat, mittens and a blanket, Jacobs looked ready to face a blizzard.
Jacobs sat in the stands saying “hi” and cheering on the players like they were her own daughters, typically calling players “honey,” “sweetie” and saying that she’ll “tell their mothers.” She sat there, taking photos on her phone of all the girls up at-bat like any mom would -- one hand holding the phone and the other used exclusively to press the button.
From a bystander’s point of view, one would think she’s a huge supporter of the softball team, when really she was sending those pictures to parents.
Laureen Jacobs is the mom of infielder Nicolette Jacobs, who graduated after last season. In her four years at Buffalo, she opened up her home and family to every girl on the softball team.
“You don't get a better family than the Jacobs family,” said head coach Mike Roberts. “I can't tell you, I talk to my players about it. Nicolette is a quality teammate. She's good on and off the field and the player you want on your team. She wants to stay around and help people.”
The Jacobs family is from Wheatfield, New York a short 15-minute drive from North Campus. Nicolette is one of the only players from Western New York. But even though she was local, Nicolette had a tough path to UB.
Her and Laureen would drive three and a half hours to Binghamton each week just for practices in high school for her travel team. Nicolette was a catcher and met Buffalo teammate and pitcher Brieanna Baker, also known as “BB.”
“Mom, my hand hurts,” Nicolette said after catching for Baker for the first time. “Do they call her BB because she throws BBs?”
While playing in Binghamton, Laureen had a collapsible wagon outfitted for every softball players’ needs.
“Players would ask for something, and they would tell them to go to Nicolette’s mom, she probably has it,” Laureen said.
But a wagon with supplies would not get Nicolette to Division I.
UB softball never placed an emphasis on recruiting from within the area. The team has historically brought in players from across the country, with little emphasis on local talent.
Former head coach Trena Peel recruited Nicolette after watching a video of a home run she hit during a high school game. Laureen estimates the ball traveled 300 feet and landed in the lacrosse field where a player had to throw the ball back. Peel was impressed by Nicolette's ability and invited her to a hitting camp.
That year, Peel recruited Nicolette and Charlotte Miller, both from the Buffalo area, who competed against one another in high school. Laureen believes that since Nicolette joined the team, the program has made a better effort to recruit from the softball community in Western New York and Buffalo.
Last season’s roster included four girls from the Buffalo area and a total of six from the upstate New York. Roberts is already bringing in two more local players in his first chance to recruit and hopes to bring in more.
“We try and have that family atmosphere,” Roberts said. “We want to take care of our teammates, but some of the players you get from the West Coast and the South are moving hours and hours away from their families. It is really nice when you have local people on your softball team where they can go around on a Saturday night and have a home cooked meal with one of our players.”
And that’s what Laureen Jacobs did. She opened up her home to every single girl on the team, beginning when Nicolette was a freshman.
“Let's put it this way, athletes are always hungry,” Laureen said. “So after a little bit of non-home cooking, they came to our house and I used to tell Nicolette, ‘I'm sure it's difficult with leaving to school and you might not be too proud to admit that you're a little homesick and you might want to step away from the act.’ Come over, hang out and watch TV. Feel the vibe of being in a home as opposed to a campus.”
Third baseman Danielle Lallos and center fielder Leandra Jew, UB ‘18 graduates, are both from California, and Laureen quickly adopted them into her family. Lallos and Nicolette met during a pre-season workout where Peel wanted the girls who were up in Buffalo to begin to get together. Nicolette said she was initially quiet but saw Lallos hit one ball off a tee and knew they could be friends.
“The Jacobs family quickly became my family,” Lallos said in an email. “I stayed at their house a lot my freshman year, and I felt like another one of their daughters. Laureen Jacobs referred to me as her ‘California daughter’ and she still does until this day. … I can’t thank the Jacobs family enough or repay them for everything they have done for me throughout the past four years. I already can’t wait to go back and visit them.”
Former UB player Madison Vaught came in the same year as Nicolette but transferred back home after her freshman season. The Jacobs family welcomed her into her home but injuries and homesickness ultimately made her leave. Vaught came from Hawaii, but felt that she was just too far, according to Nicolette.
Nicolette Jacobs name won’t go down in any record books for her statistical contributions. She played only six games her freshman year after having shoulder surgery immediately following her first career hit.
Nicolette begged the coaches to let her play even with a nagging injury until they allowed her to pinch hit. Once during her freshman year, with the bases loaded, Nicolette stepped up to the plate and hit a grand slam but in the moment she only thought it was a three-run shot.
“I was crying in the kitchen,” Laureen said when she saw it.
Still, Laureen never missed a local game. She would sit in the stands and cheer on the Bulls, no matter what the score or how well they were playing, a trait she carried over from her high school cheerleading days and the reason she’s no longer allowed to throw a softball back on the field.
“I tried throwing it over the fence about 10 or so times until Nicolette yelled from the field to give the ball to a different parent,” Laureen said. “Nicolette and the umpire were laughing.”
Laureen would take her vacation days from work and make the weekday games. During a doubleheader at Canisius College last season, Laureen went in between the games to buy the girls hot chocolate and doughnuts on the brutally cold day.
The Bulls won 8-0 in the first game before being stopped 15-5 in game two by Canisius pitcher Erika Mackie. After game two, members of UB softball asked if they could have donuts and Roberts answered, “No doughnuts! 15 to 5, and you want to eat donuts. Leave those donuts alone.”
Laureen Jacobs never cheered for recognition. Being one of the few moms in Buffalo, she wanted to do what she had hoped someone would do for her daughter if she went to California. Nothing was planned and it evolved into something larger than she ever thought it would be.
Laureen was always ready to help someone buy a pair of shoes for their first interview or send her husband out to help teammates with car trouble or house repair.
“If you look at the [Jacobs] family, the mom and dad, they are Buffalo people and everything you see in Nicolette comes from them,” Roberts said. “I can't say enough about the family and how much we enjoyed seeing them at every game.”
Even as Nicolette graduates and won’t play another collegiate softball game again, Laureen still plans to be around and support the program the she has already given so much to.
“A cold day of softball is better than a warm day at the office,” Laureen said.
Nathaniel Mendelson is the asst. sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org