It only took freshman outfielder Isaiah Jackson 11 innings to get his first home run in his first year with the ASU baseball team.
After a 0 for 2 day at the plate in his debut, Jackson expressed that he let the moment of his first game get to him, warranting unnecessary pressure on himself. After a conversation with Travis Buck, director of player development for ASU, while hitting in the cages the day before the second game started, he felt a little more comfortable.
"We're in the cage hitting today, and (Buck) says just be yourself," Jackson said. "He said to be what got you here and go back to the things that got you here."
Later that day, Jackson identified an offspeed pitch on an 0-2 count and sent a line drive into the right field corner that found its way out of Phoenix Municipal Stadium in his first at-bat that afternoon.
"It was a blur!" Jackson said. "I was talking to my parents after the game, and the first thing my mom said was '0-2!' for the count, and I was like, 'Was it?' I had no idea it was. I just completely blacked out when it happened."
The day after his inaugural home run, Jackson made a highlight grab on the wall in center field worthy of entering the conversation for catch-of-the-year.
Jackson hails from Vail, Arizona, about two hours south of ASU and less than 30 minutes southeast of Tucson. His talents were displayed at Cienaga High School, where he was a career .413 hitter and batted .506 with six homers during his senior season.
Jackson committed to ASU in August 2020 before graduating high school when the old coaching regime led by now-Michigan head coach Tracy Smith was still in place. However, current coach Willie Bloomquist made a great first impression on Jackson.
"Once the other coaches left, I felt a little uneasy," Jackson said. "When I heard Bloomquist was coming in, I said, 'OK, I'll have a conversation with him and see how it was.' In our first conversation, I just heard everything he had to say, and by the end, I felt comfortable again with my decision."
After graduating, Jackson's high school career garnered enough attention to be drafted by the Houston Astros in the 18th round with the 553rd pick of the 2022 MLB Draft. It was always a dream of Jackson's to go to the big leagues.
"When I got drafted, I was like, holy cow, this happened," Jackson said. "Then that's when my mom was like, step back and look at your options and see what you really want to do and what's really best for you."
When you get drafted into the MLB, you don't go straight to playing with the Astros, in Jackson's case. Instead, there is a tedious process of going up through the minor leagues that 99% of baseball players must go through. For an 18-year-old, it's pretty daunting.
"When you get drafted, you don't go straight to the big leagues," Bloomquist said. "You got to grind it out in the minors, which is not a lot of fun. I firmly believe in going to college out of high school."
The Texas Rangers also selected Jackson's older brother Andre Jackson in the 32nd round back in 2014. Still, hedecided to attend the University of Utah for three seasons before getting picked by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017, twenty rounds earlier. Isaiah decided to go down the same path.
Jackson is one of four freshmen from Arizona who have started at ASU this season.
"Pretty much any kid that grows up here wants to go to ASU." said Ethan Long, a junior infielder who is from Gilbert. "It speaks volumes that there is a lot of homegrown talent on this team."
With these factors in mind, including his affinity for Bloomquist's coaching, Jackson decided to play baseball for ASU. With a few games in center field and a home run under his belt, it's safe to say he's fit in so far.
"Jax is beyond his years," Bloomquist said. "He certainly belongs here and has done a great job. I look forward to him continuing to do what he's asked of doing so far and putting some good swings in the ball."
Edited by Walker Smith, Reagan Priest and Caera Learmonth.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com and follow @vdeangelis2024 on Twitter.
Like The State Press on Facebook and follow @statepress on Twitter.
Vincent Deangelis is a full-time reporter for the sports department at The State Press. He has previously worked for Arizona PBS and AZPreps365.com.