Feb. 9, 2009

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Glove Story: Jackson on the Defense

By Christina De Nicola



A line drive ripped in the hole between short and third looks to be a sure hit. That is until one of the top defensive players in the country fully extends to snag the ball out of thin air and rob a Florida International University hitter.


Since the age of three, University of Miami junior shortstop Ryan Jackson (left) has played baseball and wowed spectators with his defensive play.


“I just practiced every day,” Jackson said. “It wasn’t anything in particular. It always came easy to me. In terms of learning backhands and stuff, you have to be taught. You just don’t wake up and do it. I’ve probably taken millions of ground balls over my life.”


Often compared to former Hurricanes alum and New York Mets shortstop Alex Cora, the 6-3 Miami Springs, Fla., native has great range, instincts and feels most comfortable on backhands.


“He’s consistent, and he’s very talented,” Hurricanes coach Jim Morris said. “He’s got a great arm and very good hands. The fact is no one works harder than Ryan Jackson on defense. He takes great pride in his defense, and that’s what’s going to get him in the big leagues.”


The Preseason All-American’s tough mentality prevents him from letting errors on the field or outs at the plate carry over.


“Maybe when you’re a young guy you take things harder,” Jackson said. “When I make an error on defense, I know I’m most likely not going to do it again. In baseball, you’ve got to flush it right away. If you just keep thinking about it, you’ll just dig yourself a hole because this game’s set up for failure.”


Last season, Miami ranked seventh nationally in defense, which helped pitchers such as fellow Preseason All-American and sophomore left-hander Chris Hernandez (11-0). Jackson, a member of the USA baseball team, made only seven errors and finished with a .976 fielding percentage.


“It’s big having the defense behind you, being able to know that you can give up the ground ball and they’ll make the plays for you 100 percent of the time,” Hernandez said. “Jack’s pretty much perfect every time the ball’s hit to him. He covers a lot of ground, and he’s just great behind you. He’s always on top of his game.”


Morris notices a difference in the two-time ACC Honor Roll recipient.


“You know he’s normally a quiet guy, but you can see this year after he was selected captain and even before in the fall that he was more vocal,” Morris said. “He can lead by example and also by the leadership role of talking.”


As the lone returning infielder from last year’s squad, Jackson already has taken the younger players under his wing. 


“Whether it’s Chris Herman or Harold Martinez or Scott Lawson, you see him in the batting cage talking to them,” the 31-year coaching veteran said.


Jackson, who bumped his batting average (.354) over 100 points to finish fourth on the team, drove in 50 RBI and hopes to showcase his all-around play after being overshadowed by Yonder Alonso, Jemile Weeks, Dennis Raben, Blake Tekotte and Mark Sobolewski – all of whom were taken in the 2008 MLB Draft and left school early.


“I’m never going to knock my glove because it’s something that is a gift, but I feel like I’m a gifted hitter as well,” said the Iron Arrow member, which is the highest honor that can be given to a UM student. “I think I proved that I’m balanced. I feel like I’m one of the better hitters on our team and last year I felt like I was just as tough an out as anybody in our lineup.”


High expectations have been brought forth by both him and college baseball analysts.


“No pressure. I felt like I could’ve hit higher last season, but I had a couple of series that cost me being over .400,” Jackson said. “I truly believe I can improve on my year, and I’m going to try and make no errors.”


Former teammate and double-play partner Weeks experienced Jackson’s defensive play first-hand and never took it for granted.


“He's a worker, end of story,” said Weeks, an Oakland Athletics draft pick. “That's why we were the best double-play tandem in the country. You name a play, and we practiced it and performed it in the game, like clockwork. If I'm a cross checker I tell the team to take Jackson early because he will only work to get better than what he already is. Just watch his improvement from year-to-year.”


(photos courtesy of Miami Media Relations Office)