All American Game | Story | 8/5/2016

Jackson finding his groove

Blake Dowson        
Photo: Paul Gierhart

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Clinton Lumberkings right fielder and former Perfect Game All-American Alex Jackson isn’t hitting .300 this season, and he hasn’t slugged 30 home runs this summer, but he gets to play baseball everyday. And he gets paid to do it. For him, if he can continue to do that and get better every day (mind you, Jackson is currently the No. 6 prospect in the Seattle Mariners organization, so the future looks bright), he has nothing to complain about.

“You control what you can control, you be yourself,” Jackson said in an interview with Perfect Game before a game against Cedar Rapids at Perfect Game Field. “I get to come to the field with my teammates, my coaching staff, and play the game that I love. So for me, it’s just about enjoying the day, and hopefully down the road everything plays out well, and that would be awesome.”

Jackson, who was taken sixth overall by the Mariners in the 2014 draft, has a lot of baseball ahead of him. Coming out of Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego, he was considered the best high school bat in the draft.

While at the 2013 PG National Showcase, Jackson showed why he was deserving of a top pick in the draft. Coming out of the National, he was the No. 1 ranked player in his class. His prospect report from the event mentioned things such as a “unique blend of strength and explosive looseness,” how the ball explodes off his bat, and how his tools are eye opening.

Rancho Bernardo High School, where Jackson was a four-year starter under head coach Sam Blalock, has come to be known as “The Factory.” Blalock has been at the school since 1991, and has seen 35 of his former players get drafted to play professionally.

Jackson, tools and all, might be the best of the bunch. That says a lot about the 20-year-old that is in the middle of his second professional season. But it also comes with expectations.

“Coming from Rancho Bernardo, the program they have there, it’s unbelievable,” Jackson said. “Being able to be in a category of guys that have come out of RB, they run such an amazing program. Blalock and all the coaching staff is unbelievable and they really help you jumpstart your career whether it’s college or professional.”

Through 66 games this summer in the Midwest League, Jackson is hitting .237 with nine home runs and 43 RBI. Those numbers aren’t where Jackson, his manager, or anybody in the Mariners organization want them to be. But his swing isn’t broken. He hasn’t suddenly lost his bat speed. At this point, it’s more a matter of pitch selection and recognition of the strike zone than anything. And those are things that are fixed by getting more at-bats and seeing more pitches.

It is all part of the transition that guys coming straight out of high school experience during their first few seasons as professionals. Even guys like Jackson, who were at the top of the travel baseball food chain in high school, struggle against pitchers that have thrown collegiately for three or four years, and he acknowledges that.

“Coming out of high school and going straight into pro ball, there’s a lot of differences. For instance, the pitchers,” Jackson explained. “Players know how to do stuff in certain situations here a little bit more consistently. Coming from Rancho Bernardo, playing some of the best high school teams in the country, that definitely helped me be able to make the transition a little bit easier.

“But there’s obviously a big difference. Guys are throwing mid- to upper-90s on a regular basis, the game speeds up, and it’s your career. It’s your job. But you try to look at it from that high school perspective, having fun and going out playing ball with your friends, that’s probably the best way to go about it.”

It’s a good attitude to have, especially when the calendar turns to August and the season starts to drag. After all, baseball is a game; it’s meant to be fun, even if the paycheck Jackson earns along with it heightens the stakes a bit.

At 20, baseball has already taken Jackson on a ride that has given him memories for life. He has traveled the country, and gotten to experience things that not many teens or recent graduate of the teenage years have.

With the All-American Classic little more than a week away, it brought back some fond memories for him.

“Being able to play at Petco Park in San Diego, where I’m from, it was definitely awesome. Being able to have the support from all of the hometown crowd, and all the guys coming out and being like, ‘Hey you’re from San Diego, what’s going on over here,’” Jackson said. “It’s something that you don’t forget. That game is run very well, it’s another one of those things that you’ll never forget. It’s the top guys in the country, and you’re going at it, you can’t complain with that.”

Ten months after Jackson went 1-for-4 with a run scored in front of his hometown crowd during the Classic, it was draft day, another day he will never forget.

Every kid playing in every little league dreams about getting drafted. 1,215 kids got to live their dream in the 2014 class, but it is extra special when you hear your name called on the first day, first round, and in Jackson’s case, after only five other names had been called.

“[Being drafted] is something that’s kind of hard to describe. It’s one of the greatest feelings ever. Being able to celebrate that with your family, your friends, and your coaches, it’s something that you’ll never forget,” he said. “There’s a lot of moments in life that come close to a feeling like that, and some that will be even greater, but being able to get drafted and go through the process of being drafted…it’s unforgettable.”

Now two years later, Jackson is still making memories on the field that he will never forget. With his swing and his youth, it doesn’t seem likely those memories will end anytime soon.

“You have to enjoy it,” he said. “Being able to share these instances with your friends, your family, and your teammates, it’s really an unforgettable experience.”

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