By Michael Bower
It happens nearly every game. Alex Jackson walks to the plate, carrying his bat in his hand knowing he probably could have left it behind.
The opposing catcher turns to the dugout and sees his coach put four fingers up — the universal sign for intentional walk.
Scouts drop their heads in disappointment. Some fans turn and look for an explanation, as the 6-foot, 2-inch, 215-pound Jackson jogs to first base without stepping foot in the batter’s box.
The whispers start: “He is the best hitter in the county and there is a base open,” someone will say.
“You don’t want to pitch to him. That kid is going in the first round of the draft,” adds another.
True. And likely true.
Jackson, who has played catcher all four years at the varsity level for Rancho Bernardo High and signed a scholarship to the University of Oregon, entered this week with 13 walks. Many of the intentional variety and others of the unintentional-intentional kind.
Still, Baseball America’s No. 4 MLB Draft eligible prospect and admirer of former pros Ivan Rodriguez, Barry Bonds and Ozzie Smith, has been more than ready to punish those pitchers that do issue a challenge in the strike zone.
Jackson, a right-hander, entered Tuesday with seven home runs, three of them coming last week, and a .429 batting average. He is creeping closer to the San Diego Section career home run record of 47 owned by former Bronco John Drennen (2002-2005). Jackson sits at 44 career long balls.
“The record is not something I just blow off,” said Jackson, MaxPreps’ National Junior Player of the Year last season. “It means something to me. It would be an honor to get the record, but at the same time I don’t want to get my head too wrapped up in that stuff. I just worry about playing.”
Easier said than done. There is the record, the scouts, the potential decision between millions of dollars by turning pro or attending Oregon and the heightened media attention all demanding some thought. But his play shows he has handled the pressure well.
“It doesn’t really surprise me,” said Broncos coach Sam Blalock, who has had seven first-rounders drafted in 23 seasons at RB. “He understands what is happening and what he has control of and that is the main thing.”
Jackson has played ball around the entire country, including in four professional stadiums (Petco Park, Metrodome, Wrigley Field and Angel Stadium of Anaheim). He started playing the game at the age of 4 and began dreaming of being a pro one day at the age of 6.
He will likely have that opportunity when his name is called June 5, the first day of the 2014 MLB Draft. It will be decision time soon after. This is the answer Jackson replies with when asked about the college vs. pro choice:
“I am without a doubt going to Oregon. As of right now, Oregon is my only option ... that is where I am going unless another option comes up. Then I will talk with my family and figure it out.”
Another option will undoubtedly come up. But for now Jackson is enjoying his senior season, hammering opposing pitching when they throw strikes and gladly taking first base when they don’t.
“This year is all about going out and having fun,” he said. “I am trying to act like it is my freshman year all over again. I am not going to be able to play high school baseball again so I am enjoying it to its full potential.”