Classic calls Titans' Jackson

Photo: Perfect Game

Jeff Dahn
Published: Saturday, July 22, 2017

MESA, Ariz. – The high school-aged prospects from the Gulf Coast regions of Alabama and Mississippi, the guys with the word “Titans” displayed proudly on their chests, gathered at the Cubs Park Riverview Chicago Cubs spring training complex this weekend to play a little baseball under the hot desert sun.

Based in Mobile, Ala., the Coast Titans are here competing – and competing well – at the invitation-only 17u Perfect Game World Series. It’s an event that brings together 30 of the best 17u teams from all over the country, pits them against one another for five days of play at the highest level, and gives the national scouting community an opportunity to see many of the top prospects from the class of 2018 go out and do their thing.

“I’ve been coaching this group for six years now, and this was kind of my present to them to take a trip and come out west,” Titans head coach Paul Tanner told PG. “We’ve been wanting to come out here and play some teams out here, anyway, just to see how we could do; it’s been exciting so far.”

Every one of the 30 teams in the field boasts an abundance of talented, highly ranked prospects – many with NCAA Division I commitments – and the Coast Titans are no exception. Eleven of their 2018s have made commitments to D-I schools and five of them are ranked in the top-475 nationally.

But even with that much talent on the same roster – that much promise and projection – every team needs a leader, a go-to guy, a man for the moment. And on this Titans’ roster, that guy is shortstop Jeremiah Jackson.

Jackson is a 6-foot, 170-pound athlete from Mobile with a 90-mph arm, 6.8-second speed in the 60-yard dash and a bat that settles neatly into the 3-hole of the Titans’ lineup. He jumped to No. 27 in PG’s class of 2018 rankings after a standout performance at the PG National Showcase in June, and he’s played on the international scene with USA Baseball.

“He can play defense and he can hit the baseball,” Tanner said of the personable Jackson. “He’s worked hard on his base-running and his speed – he’s actually improved his speed a lot – so he’s definitely a 5-tool player. Incredible power; excellent defense. I’d put him against anybody in the country, he’s that good.”

Perfect Game crosscheckers, scouts and, more importantly, top decision-makers have been keeping track of Jackson ever since he made his PG debut in June of 2014, and they’ve liked what they’ve seen.

As a result, Jackson has been invited to next month’s PG All-American Classic where he’ll wear the East Team uniform while performing in front of hundreds of scouts, thousands of fans and a national television audience. And he doesn’t mind admitting he was holding his breath for a time until the formal invitation was extended.

“I went to the PG National and I had a pretty good showing,” Jackson said. “But again, with all the good guys and the studs out there (at that event) you know you have to do good, and once I got that call it was kind of a relief. But I was truly honored.”

Jackson had already enjoyed a heavily decorated PG career even before the A-A Classic invite came his way. Playing at PG tournaments with the Coast Titans since 2014 – he has been with Tanner since he was 12 years old – Jackson has been named to seven all-tournament teams (two in 2017). He was also included on the Top Prospect List at the PG National Showcase.

In addition, he was a member of the 2015 USA Baseball 15u National Team when he helped lead Team USA to a gold medal at the COPABE “AA” Pan American Championships in Aguascalientes, Mexico; Jackson was named to that event’s all-tournament team, as well.

“It was awesome; I was really happy and excited that we could represent the nation well and win,” he told reporters at the time. “(Being named to the all-tournament team) was a big blessing for me. It made me feel good and made me feel like all the hard work that I (put in) was worth it.”

As much as Jackson loves playing for his St. Luke’s Episcopal High School team in Mobile and in regional tournaments in various Gulf Coast cities and towns, he also realizes the importance of performing on national and international stages in terms of his development as a ballplayer.

“There is only so much you can get out of playing local ball, and once you get out to these big events it humbles you, for sure,” he said. “I’ve been humbled a lot seeing all these stud pitchers, these good arms, these good catchers, and the best position players and hitters; it definitely does (bring out the best in me).

“I really think (all the experiences) has made me a better player,” he continued. “Ever since I was at a younger age my grandad has always been big on staying focused and not letting distractions get in the way of anything.”

Jackson has been raised by his mother, Monica Jackson Beasley, and his grandfather, Mike Jackson. It is Mike Jackson that has had the most influence on Jeremiah's baseball-playing life.

“He’s had a huge impact on me,” Jackson said. “He’s been around the game for a long time and he knows a lot, and he’s brought it all to me. We’ve just been working steadily ever since; he’s been a tremendous help.”

Mike Jackson has two sons, Brett and Kyle, who played baseball and, in fact, Brett played for four years at the University of South Alabama in the late 1990s. Mike played high school and American Legion baseball himself, like all men of a certain age did when they were younger.

He is here in the desert this weekend assisting Tanner with the Coast Titans, and he feels like he’s learned enough about the game through his experiences – “I’d still be playing if they’d let me,” he said – to pass along some words of wisdom to his grandson.

“You always try to teach the kids to play the game right,” Mike told PG. “Respect the game, respect the players you’re playing against, respect your teammates, and then you should just go out there and do those things the best you can. That’s what you try to get across to a kid that’s going to (be involved with) athletics. For the most part, I think that’s happened.”

It was about six years ago that Tanner and assistant coach Jerry Ewing decided to put together a team from their area, which lies roughly between the Gulf Coast cities of Mobile, Ala., and Gulfport, Miss.

The two men started to collect players they felt were among the best living on the coast, brought them together and, lo and behold, “The next thing we knew we were playing baseball,” Tanner said. And the next thing he knew after that, the program was, indeed, attracting many of the top players from the region, and most of them are moving on to college baseball.

The No. 27-ranked Jackson has committed to Mississippi State, and the Titans’ other highly ranked prospects are on their way to D-I programs as well: No. 195 Sam Knowlton (Mississippi State), No. 229 Brandon Schrepf (South Florida), No. 234 Drew Williamson (Alabama) and No. 475 Gabriel Shepard (Southern Miss).

“I love playing baseball … and it’s always fun to get together with these guys,” Jackson said. “It’s a great group of kids and I love playing with them. We’re all kind of scattered around the Coast – we’re not all from the same place – but it’s always a good time when we get together. We have different people with all kinds of different interests and everything, but it’s always fun being with these guys.”

As a grandad, a volunteer coach and, most importantly, a baseball fan who appreciates young talent, Mike Jackson is thrilled to be a part of Jeremiah’s ride: “He’s played with these kids for a long time, and just to watch all these kids develop and mature (is special),” Mike said. “They love the game and their whole life is built around school and baseball so, yeah, it’s been a real joy.”

Tanner was not at all surprised when he learned Jackson had been named a PG All-American, but his lack of surprise wasn’t brought about by the fact Jackson is a heck of a ballplayer. Tanner thinks the people at PG simply became aware of certain character traits Jackson possesses that he’s been familiar with for a long time: the kid’s humble, he’s passionate and he’s a leader.

Jackson appreciates the praise but, by his own admission, he’s been humbled enough times to know nothing comes easy. Under the guidance of his grandad, he’s dedicated himself to a life of hard work, trying to reach the one goal that every young ballplayer hopes to achieve: playing in the big leagues.

“To me, it’s just about working hard and just playing your best,” he said. “It’s great if you get named an All-American and everything, but as long as you’re playing your best that’s all you can ask for.”

Still, being named a PG All-American is a pretty special deal: “We have a very high regard for Perfect Game. It’s a great organization that always puts together great tournaments with very good competition,” Mike Jackson said. “So, it was a real honor for Jeremiah to make the (Classic); just an absolute honor.”

Jackson still has some baseball business to take care of before he arrives in San Diego, including playing at the Area Code Games in Long Beach, Calif., the week before the Classic.

And then there’s this small matter of finishing strong at the 17u PG World Series. The Coast Titans won two of their first three pool-play games and were set to battle for a playoff berth in a game late Saturday afternoon. It’s the kind of position the team hoped it would be in when the decision was made to accept an invitation to the PG national championship tournament.

“Like me and Coach Jerry (Ewing) were talking about, the talent level out here is really, really good,” Tanner said. “We’re excited to be here and we’re excited to play this type of competition. That was the main reason we came out here just to see where our team stood with some of these West Coast teams; I think it brings out the best in the guys.” Jeremiah Jackson will not argue that point.

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