07/02/2004 10:55 AM ET
A star on the rise
Conor Jackson takes promotion, Futures Game in stride
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
|A 2003 first-round draft pick, Conor Jackson is already playing at the Double-A level. (Tom Hauck)
Growing up, Conor Jackson was used to not being the star in the family. With the way the Diamondbacks outfield prospect has begun his professional career, that may change very soon.
Jackson's father, John, is an actor who's been in movies like "A Few Good Men," but is known mostly for his portrayal of Admiral A.J. Chegwidden in the long-running TV series "JAG." It meant an unusual childhood for John's son, but one he didn't mind one bit.
"It's a good little situation, being an actor's son," Jackson said. "Growing up, he was always around. It's not a normal 9-to-5 job. That show takes about eight days to shoot. He probably was working three or four of those days. The rest of the time he was throwing me BP."
The extra swings clearly helped. The younger Jackson just started his professional career last summer after Arizona took him No. 19 overall in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft out of Cal-Berkeley, yet he's already risen up to Double-A. Evidently Jackson has taken the "have bat, will travel" adage to heart.
In his debut last summer, Jackson hit .319 with 60 RBIs for Yakima while setting a Northwest League record with 35 doubles in 68 games. He didn't stop this year, moving all the way up to the high-A California League. Jackson hit .345 with 11 homers and 54 RBIs in 67 games before getting bumped up to El Paso. So much for power being the last thing to come for developing hitters.
"In college, my stance was more spread out. It was a metal bat stance," Jackson explained. "When I got to pro ball, they stood me up more into more of a power stance. It took me a while last year with Yakima to get used to the swing. Now I feel comfortable with it.
"Home runs are a mistake to me. I consider myself more of a gap-to-gap guy. It's kind of a shock, the home runs, with the wood bat. Hopefully, I won't peak out in the minor leagues."
That seems unlikely, since Jackson has begun his Double-A career by going 10-for-26 (.385) with a homer and five RBIs in his first seven games. He's also compiled all those numbers while learning a new position. A third baseman at Berkeley, Jackson has made a fairly smooth transition to the outfield.
"I've looked like a fool out there a few times, but that's all part of the learning process," Jackson said. "I was pretty nervous at first going to a new spot, just being thrown out there. But I have no regrets at all. I like it better than the infield."
Aside from the switch from metal to wood bats, the toughest transition for college players to make to the pro game is getting used to playing every day. Jackson won't deny that it takes a toll, but he actually prefers the non-stop action. The repitition, he says, has helped him improve both offensively and defensively.
"It is a grind on your body, but mentally I love it," Jackson said. "In college, you play Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday. You have Wednesday, Thursday and Monday to think about all of your at-bats. That tends to put you in a mental slump. Playing pro ball, you have no time to think. You're just going up there and hitting and that's the best part of it."
Jackson hasn't been the only 2003 Diamondbacks draft pick to swing a hot bat this season. He began the season on a Lancaster JetHawks team that also featured outfielder Carlos Quentin (No. 29 overall) and third baseman Jamie D'Antona (No. 66, and the reason why Jackskon switched to the outfield). Lancaster was hitting .297 as a team, with Jackson, D'Antona (.315, 13, 57) and Quentin (.310, 15, 51) leading the charge.
"It was pretty ridiculous," Jackson said. "One through nine was a threat. Even when we were down six or seven runs in a game, it never really bothered us. We never really felt we were out of the game.
"The 3-4-5 guys, we fed off each other. If someone got a hit, we'd strive to get a hit even more. There was kind of an internal competition among us three. On and off the field, we're all really good friends. We kind of even each other out."
Quite possibly with that in mind, the Diamondbacks sent Quentin and D'Antona with Jackson to El Paso. The three have been dubbed the "Three Amigos" by some, but Jackson would welcome a more original moniker. How about "The Three Batsmen?" Whatever they're called, Jackson is happy to have his JetHawk teammates by his side in the Texas League.
"It's a big help, comfort-wise," Jackson said. "Going in there by yourself to a new team, halfway through the year, taking some guy's spot, it definitely is a big issue. You know these guys, you played with them in Spring Training and half the season, so it's very comfortable to have them up there with you. The El Paso team has embraced us pretty well so far and hopefully we can breathe some energy into it."
Jackson hasn't just been rewarded with a promotion for his efforts. He also was named to the U.S. Team for the New York Mercantile Exchange All-Star Futures Game, to be played on All-Star Sunday, July 11, in Houston. Jackson is one of six 2003 first-round picks to be selected to the game, but since this is just his first full season, attending the All-Star festivities wasn't even on his radar.
"I found out the day the rosters came out that I made the team," Jackson said. "I had no idea I was even in the running for it. It's definitely an honor and it shows the faith the Diamondbacks have in me as a player. Playing in a game like that, growing up watching it, seeing all those guys, seeing how close you are to the Show, it's definitely a confidence booster."
Jackson also knows that once he gets to the Show, he might become the more famous Jackson in his family. Who knows, he may even be able to swing a cameo on the other show: JAG.
"I think I'm going to have to wait until I'm a big leaguer, if the show is still on the air by then," Jackson laughed. "In time, maybe people will say, 'Hey, there's Conor's dad' instead of saying, 'Hey, there's John's son.' [My father] is a really down-to-earth guy. He's very humble about what he does, [so it won't bother him]."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.