Veteran Pitcher Edwin Jackson Enjoying Las Vegas Homecoming
It's a typical spring day in Summerlin, the brilliant sun having taken up residence (as it usually does in the late afternoon) over the Spring Mountains. As the emerald green grass at Las Vegas Ballpark soaks up the rays, Edwin Jackson is in full reflection mode while relaxing on the bench in the Aviators' dugout.
Some 14 years have passed since Jackson was last in this position: that is, a member of Las Vegas' Triple-A baseball club. Or 15 years, if you want to go back to day he first arrived here in 2004. That year, Jackson was a prized pitching prospect for the Los Angeles Dodgers, a baby-faced 20-year-old still too young to legally enjoy all the fun and frills that made this glittering desert city famous.
Today, after more than a few page flips of the calendar, Jackson is a 35-year-old grizzled veteran, a man with 16 years of Major League Baseball experience whose right arm has logged 1,887 big-league innings for a record-tying 13 big-league teams. If the baseball gods are so generous, he'll soon be adding to that innings total with the Oakland A's. But for now, after signing a minor-league contract with Oakland in April, Jackson finds himself once again pitching in Las Vegas, having traded his old Las Vegas 51s cap and jersey for some brand-new Aviators gear.
So as Jackson sits in the dugout on this warm Saturday afternoon, one day after allowing two runs over 4 2/3 innings in his Aviators debut, it's tempting to say his career has come full circle. But because full circle implies things have reached an end point, Jackson - who will make his second start for the Aviators at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday against the Salt Lake Bees - prefers to view this unique situation through a different prism.
"It's a homecoming," he says with a wide grin, "just in a different place."
Jackson's first stint in Las Vegas actually came after he got his first cup of coffee in the major leagues. A September callup of the Dodgers in 2003, the then-19-year-old appeared in four games (three starts), going 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA. Despite those solid numbers, L.A. assigned Jackson to Las Vegas to begin the 2004 season.
As the baby on the 51s' roster, Jackson chose to take a wise approach: He put in his work on the mound, and in between starts, he kept his eyes open and his mouth mostly shut.
"I was the youngest guy in the clubhouse, so I had to grow up at an early age, which wasn't a bad thing," he says. "I learned a lot about the game. Because I wasn't in a position to be talking a lot, I just kind of sat back and observed what was going on and took everything in."
Jackson made 19 starts with Las Vegas in 2004, going 6-4 with a 5.86 ERA while pitching in the offensive friendly Pacific Coast League. Late in the season, Jackson got the call to return to Los Angeles, where he appeared in eight games (five starts) before coming back to Las Vegas to start the 2005 season.
Now 21 years old, Jackson struggled in his second go-round with the 51s, going 3-7 with an 8.62 ERA in 12 games (11 starts). So the Dodgers sent him to Double-A Jacksonville to work with pitching instructor Ken Howell, and after a few weeks, Jackson returned for a third time to Los Angeles, where he finished the 2005 season.
Surprisingly, though, Jackson's Dodgers career would end that offseason when he was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays. After starting 2006 with Triple-A Durham, North Carolina, Jackson was promoted to Tampa, beginning a stretch in which he would stick in the majors for 13 consecutive seasons, pitching for eight different clubs through 2015.
In the four years since, Jackson has pitched in the majors and minors for five organizations: the Marlins, Padres, Orioles, Nationals (for a second stint) and A's.
"I'm a military brat, so the bouncing around, meeting new people, I'm used to," Jackson says. "Kind of all I know is learning to make adjustments on the fly. It's like when you're on the mound and you're making adjustments from pitch to pitch - it's the same thing with life in baseball. You're making adjustments from team to team and city to city, learning new methods.
"At the end of the day you have to have confidence. You may bounce from team to team, but the game is still the same. You still have to throw the baseball, and you still have to get outs. As long as you keep doing the preparation and keep your mentality the same, everything else is just making an adjustment to new scenery, a new team and a new atmosphere. Once you get between the lines, the game is the same."
After being promoted to the A's last June, Jackson pitched as well as he has in years, going 6-3 with a 3.33 ERA in 17 starts to help lead Oakland to a wild-card playoff berth. Despite that performance, Jackson failed to secure a major-league deal in the offseason - a development that would leave many veterans frustrated, if not downright angry.
Jackson, though, is taking his reality in stride. While he obviously would love to return to Oakland (or any major-league team), he says he's enjoying his Las Vegas homecoming - "It's a great city to play in" - and insists he isn't looking too far down the road.
"At the end of the day, when I pitch like I can pitch, I know what I'm capable of, which is why I'm still playing," Jackson says. "At this point, if I have to prove something to someone, then they haven't watched me pitch."
Perhaps one more big-league promotion is forthcoming; perhaps he remains in Las Vegas all summer. Either way, one thing is certain: You won't see the always affable Edwin Jackson turn sullen.
"The day I get salty is the day I go home," he says. "I won't allow myself to be a salty person, because I feel like that vibe rubs off on the team. And the last thing [my teammates] need is a salty person around with a bad attitude - that's the last impression I want to leave on someone. So as long as I'm out on the field competing, regardless of what level it is, I'm going to have fun."
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