With Flair for Dramatic Jhalan Jackson Delivering in Clutch for Charleston RiverDogs
There are few positons in sports where when one thinks of the legendary names that have played for that team in that position, there is a certain awe that comes across a person’s voice. The quarterback position in Green Bay, manned by Hall of Famer Bart Starr and future Hall of Famers Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers is such an example. So is right field for the New York Yankees, where three of the greatest and most clutch hitters – Babe Ruth, Roger Maris and Reggie Jackson – the game has ever seen manned the position.
These are men who have left a legacy on the game that few can match. Ruth was Major League baseball’s first true homerun hitter, hitting 60 homers in 1927, more than most entire teams combined to hit. Ruth is also known for his legendary called homerun in the 1932 World Series, a feat that has not been matched since. Maris broke Ruth’s homerun mark with 61 homeruns in 1961, a mark that stood for more than 35 years. Then there is Jackson, who became known as “Mr. October” because of his play when the stakes were the highest. Jackson is most known for his three homers in one game in the 1978 World Series, but he also added 563 round-trippers to his Hall of Fame career.
With names like this it is easy to see that there is quite a bit of pressure on any player who wishes to man the right field spot for the New York Yankees. It takes a person with great skills, an unflappable mindset that is ready for any challenge, and a penchant for creating his own dramatics. That man could very well be Charleston RiverDogs outfielder Jhalan Jackson.
The Legacy Begins
Born in Winter Haven, FL, Jhalan always had the physical tools to be an athlete. His grandmother and older brother first introduced him to the sport of baseball and, because of his brother’s success, he found that he wanted to star on the field as well. “My grandmother and my brother got me interested in playing baseball” Jhalan explains. “My brother was a very good baseball player when I was growing up. Watching him play made me want to play.”
While wanting to emulate his brother, the RiverDogs right fielder got a lot of his knowledge of the intricacies of the game from his grandmother, an avid baseball fan who watched games with her grandson all summer long. “My grandma was a very big Dodgers and Braves fan as well as the Cubs. We used to always watch those teams play and she used to take me to every game when I was growing up, and that just made me want to play more.”
Baseball became the passion for Jhalan. During his youth he played baseball and football, but once he got into AU baseball he found that he really only had time to devout to one sport, so he opted for the game his grandmother introduced him to. That became his passion.
With great size and agility, he really wanted to be a catcher, but a wrist injury forced him to move to the outfield. There he excelled and starred in high school. He graduated from Hillsborough High School in 2011, and moved on to play baseball at Hillsborough Community College for two years. As a freshman, Jhalan hit .300 with 5-homers and 48-RBI, earning All-Conference honors. His sophomore season he was named the Offensive Player of the Year by the school after hitting .308 with 11-HRs and 40-RBI. That, too, earned him All-Conference honors but, more importantly, it earned him a real close look by Florida Southern College, where he earned a scholarship.
At Florida Southern, Jhalan’s career took off. He played just one season there, but hit an impressive .417 with 20 homeruns in 175 at-bats. He had a huge season at FSC and that caught the attention of the New York Yankees, who selected Jhalan in the seventh round of the 2015 draft.
Florida Southern also gave him the opportunity to play in front of his mom, and he was very pleased that, in his best season, his mom got to watch him in every home game he played. “Florida Southern is like 20 minutes from my mom, so she came to every home game. That season was probably the highlight of my baseball career, and it was so great that my mom got to watch many of those games.”
While not surprised that he was drafted early, Jhalan was excited to know that he was going to be part of the New York Yankees organization. “It is great. It is the greatest team in all of baseball, and it is a great experience to be chosen by the very best. I was excited about going to a great organization and knowing I was going to be playing with the best.”
While excited about his new team, he understands that there is a lot of pressure when you are expected to take the same position that Ruth, Maris, and Jackson have taken. “It’s kind of a big weight on my shoulders, but I just go out to play and do me.”
Actually, the biggest challenge originally was leaving his family to report to Staten Island, the Yankees short-season team. It would be the first time he had been away from his family, but he was given the opportunity to play a game he truly loves, and with an organization that Jhalan admires greatly.
“My biggest challenge was leaving my family, but after a week or two there that went away. My most enjoyable moment has been that I am able to play baseball every day. The game I love, I get to wake up every day and play. That is the best feeling in the world.”
Making a Lasting Impression in the Pros
The Yankees selection of Jhalan Jackson did not go unrewarded. He homered in each of his first two games at Staten Island and had an excellent season in 49-games there. The right fielder hit .266 with 5-homeruns and 34 RBI.
While having an outstanding season, some critics questioned the potential of the right fielder. The idea was that he would just be a one-dimensional player, but that was not supported by the Yankees at all. They saw that he had the ability to be a real productive hitter, and that his defense was way above average.
They showed their faith in Jhalan by moving him to Mid-A Charleston where he has shown his flair for the dramatic. After sitting out opening night because of a nagging injury, Jhalan delivered a dramatic walk-off single in the ninth inning to send Angel Aguilar home for the 5-4 victory. That would be the first of two walk-off wins he would produce this season, including driving home the winner on Saturday night against the Augusta GreenJackets.
For the season, he is hitting .237 so far with 6-doubles and 9-RBI in 15 games. The right fielder had a thumb and back injury last season, and the back is still causing him some discomfort this year, but he has battled to make every at-bat count and when the stakes are the highest he has really come through.
“My play is just about focusing. When you’re struggling you’re probably not focusing as much as when you are good at the plate. Your focus should be the same pretty much the whole game, but late in the games when you got to come through your focus gets a little more intense. At least, that is how it is for me. Those big moments really get me locked in.”
Jhalan, ever looking to improve his game, is not satisfied with his production at this point. He knows the power numbers will come, and continues to be more selective at the plate, but he is pleased with how well his play has been in the field. He has already thrown out two runners this season, including one in Game 1 of Saturday night’s contest that kept the score tied at zero. He has made two errors, but his defense has been stellar and he has shown great range in the outfield, something he maintains as an important part of his game.
“I have not tapped into my power yet this season, and have really not had as much opportunity to show off my arm,” the 23-year-old explains. “I just really focus on limiting my errors and making plays to help my team. When I do that, I am playing well out there.”
The Next Great Yankees Right Fielder?
Just 64 games into his professional career, it is hard to make such an assessment already. Jhalan is facing his first struggles on the field, but has shown something that will likely lead him to being a star one day; the ability to differentiate.
Many players who are struggling at the plate and not reaching numbers that they are used to producing find that all aspects of their game begin to struggle. As Jhalan worked himself out of a 2-25 slump with two hits Saturday night, he always ensured that his defense and play on the base paths were still exceptional parts to his game. It demonstrates a key ingredient of the mental part of the game the he excels so well at.
“You got to give it your all on the field, remaining driven and determined. It’s also what you are doing off the field. You have to give it your all no matter what, and when things are not going your way, you still have to deliver to help the team.”
Giving it his all is something that Jhalan Jackson does every time he begins his day. He pushes himself to be the next great Yankees star, and he credits the inspiration in his life for helping him to reach his dreams.
“My personal inspiration would have to be my mother (Angela Mathews). Me and my mom are very close. She is like my best friend. If it were not for her I would not be playing baseball today. She has done so much for me and I am so thankful and grateful for that.”
Is Jhalan Jackson going to be the next great New York Yankees hitter? That is hard to say. It is takes a lot of skill to reach such a height, but it also takes a whole lot of determination and moxie to make it there. Jhalan has certainly proven that he has the focus and drive to make it, and his flair for the dramatic makes him a natural for New York. Don’t be surprised if one day soon you are hearing the Yankee Stadium crowd shouting, “Jhalan, Jhalan, Jhalan.” Now wouldn’t that be dramatic?
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA