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Concentrating On Baseball Helps Furman's Jackson Become Pro Prospect

Concentrating On Baseball Helps Furman's Jackson Become Pro Prospect

April 23, 2008

By Willie T. Smith III, The Greenville News

After watching his son excel in basketball and baseball at Christ Church Episcopal School, Randy Jackson Sr. wanted Randy Jackson Jr. to play hoops in college.

The younger Jackson, better known as Jay, decided to continue with baseball, however. Now a junior at Furman University, Jackson has more than justified that decision.

During the offseason, Jackson was rated by Baseball America as one of the top three Southern Conference prospects for the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft.

A right-handed pitcher who is the Paladins' No. 1 starter, Jackson has compiled an 8-1 record with a 2.72 earned run average. In 59" innings, he has allowed 47 hits while striking out 55 and walking 25. When not pitching, he plays in the field and will start in left when Furman plays the University of South Carolina at 7 tonight at Fluor Field at the West End. He is batting .312 with six homers in 93 at-bats.

"He is one of the best pitchers in the Southern Conference," said Furman baseball coach Ron Smith of Jackson, who on Monday was selected co-pitcher of the week in the league. "He certainly has a very, very high ceiling. He continues to improve. I think that is what intrigues most professional scouts."

Jackson concedes that like his father, he at one point favored basketball as a sport to pursue in college.

"But baseball just kind of grew on me and kept growing on me until there was nothing else to do," he said. "Baseball just showed up to be a better opportunity."

Another reason for Jackson's decision was that it gave him the ability to remain close to home. His mother and father, along with young sisters Jasmine and Kiyana, can be found in the stands of all the Paladins' home games and most of those on the road.

"It is great for us," Randy Jackson Sr. said. "We don't have to do a lot of traveling because we're only about 15 minutes from home."

After completing his first two season with a 4-4 record and a 5.04 ERA, Jackson took his pitching to a different level during the summer, although he didn't plan it that way.

Invited to participate in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League, Jackson planned to be an everyday player for the Delaware (Ohio) Cows.

"I told them when I got there I wasn't going to pitch because I pitched a lot last year and I didn't want to throw my arm out," Jackson said. "But we had a game that went into extra innings, and they needed someone to pitch. I told them I could do it. I came in a game in and did well. The pitching coach said I had a better chance of making it somewhere as a pitcher rather than a position player."

Jackson finished with a 5-0 record and a 1.96 ERA. He struck out 38 while allowing only 26 hits and six walks in 36" innings. He was selected to the All-GLSCL team and listed as its top athlete and No. 2 prospect by Baseball America.

This summer, Jackson has been invited to play with the Hyannis (Mass.) Mets of the prestigious Cape Cod League. Whether he makes it there is very much in doubt.

With the baseball draft only two months away, it appears Jackson may have another big decision to make. Although intrigued with the notion of beginning a professional career, Jackson remains somewhat conflicted.

"I am thinking I don't want to leave my team, but I've done a lot in college baseball," he said. "I have taken the step as an athlete, as a student, to prove to myself I can handle the challenge of playing college baseball and going to college. I feel I'm ready to take my next step.

"If teams want me to take the next step and are willing to offer me what they think would be reasonable, it would be a tough decision."