Jazmyn Jackson and Archbishop Mitty are ticked off, and ready to get the CCS title back.
By DAVID KIEFER | Contributor
Brian Yocke remembers the day Jazmyn Jackson came out for softball at Archbishop Mitty High. More specifically, he remembers her first play of that first day.
That was when he learned all he needed to know about Jackson.
Yocke was the new varsity coach at the San Jose school when he first met the freshman. A ball was played to Jackson in right field. She fielded it cleanly and fired it to second base. A bullet. Chest high. Into the glove.
“With one throw, she made varsity,” Yocke said. “I hadn’t seen her hit yet. I hadn’t seen her run yet. But I knew, at that moment, that we had something special.”
Yocke’s instincts were correct.
Heading into her senior season, here is what Jackson’s done in her three-year varsity career:
• Hit a combined .525, with 155 hits, 112 runs, 91 RBI, 28 doubles, 16 triples, and 16 home runs.
• Led the Monarchs to a 79-4 record.
• Won two Central Coast Section Division II and three West Catholic Athletic League championships.
• Named to the 2013 MaxPreps All-America and California Large Schools All-State teams.
This season, great things again are expected of Mitty and Jackson. The Monarchs are ranked No. 10 in the Student Sports/Cal-Hi Sports Fab 50 national preseason rankings and Jackson has been listed as a California “Ms. Softball” candidate.
There is an extra element to consider as well: The Monarchs are ticked off.
Last year, Mitty was 27-0 and ranked No. 2 in the nation when it inexplicably fell in the CCS Div. II quarterfinals to Gilroy, 6-3, in nine innings. Mitty had beaten Gilroy, 6-0, earlier in the season and had leads of 2-0 and 3-2 in the game.
“We know what it feels like to lose and will let that drive us,” Jackson said. “I feel bad that’s how it ended for our seniors, but we all worked our best. We had a bad day and they had a great day.”
Jackson went 2-for-2 at the plate, with two walks, scored three runs, drove in another, and stole a base. But she was involved in a controversial play that resulted in Gilroy’s go-ahead run in the ninth.
With a runner on second, Gilroy hit a ball up the middle that Jackson, playing shortstop, felt like she had a bead on. “It was not a routine forehand, but a routine diving forehand that I made all the time in practice,” Jackson said.
As she prepared to make the play, Jackson collided with the runner. Jackson was called for interference and the run scored.
The controversy arose from whether Jackson could have made the play. If the umpires deemed she could have, the runner would be called out. The question is: Had the umpires ever seen a player with the speed, range, and glove of Jackson before?
A normal player may not have made that play, but Jackson is not a normal player.
“I thought, OK, just let it go,” she said. “Obviously, you can’t argue at that point. As a player you have to move on to the next play. It was a tough loss, but everything’s a learning experience.”
Jackson is the ultimate “five-tool” player: She can hit, run, field, throw, and hit for power. But Yocke says that description falls short.
“She also has the unspoken tools,” he said. “She’s competitive and a true team player. Not many girls with her ability put the team first as much as she does. If there’s a runner on first in a tie game, she’s looking at me for the bunt sign.
“Whether it’s small ball, situational hitting, moving a runner up, Jazzy’s setting that tone. And when the best player buys into the program, everyone buys into the program.”
Jackson, the oldest of four children to Diffric and Diane Jackson, loves to compete.
“Every single one of us plays sports,” she said. “So, it’s always a competition. We’ll go to the field, we’ll go to the track, we’ll just go in the front yard, go in the pool to see who’s the fastest. Anything. It’s super fun.”
The neighbors in their San Jose court know all about the competitive Jacksons. Broken windows, dented cars, balls flying onto their roofs or into their backyards.
As the Jacksons argue over one of their late-night athletic competitions, neighbors are used to sliding open a window to remind them that “it’s a bit late and maybe you need to go inside.”
Jazmyn took her love of softball from her father’s love of baseball. Diffric played baseball and football at Irvington High in Fremont. He played outfield at Ohlone College, winning the 1990 Coast Conference championship, and then switched to football the next year at San Jose City College.
Afternoons at nearby fields have always been a staple for the Jackson family. Jazmyn developed her skills playing for the East Valley Twisters rec team beginning at age 7 and then the San Jose Sting travel team. All that time, Diffric worked with her too, particularly on developing her arm through long toss or other exercises.
Jackson won the 14-under national title for the Sting under coach Bob Perales, who also was a huge influence in her development. It was with the Sting when Jackson switched from batting right handed to left to take even greater advantage of her speed.
However, for the Jacksons, it was becoming clear that her workload, including pitching, was becoming too demanding.
“For us, it was always important for her to never be the best player on the team,” Diffric said. “She’s always wanted a challenge.”
After the national title, “we took a step back and decided what she really wanted to do,” he said.
Their answer: Go south!
They sought instruction and better competition in Southern California. At first, it was only going to be for two or three weekends in the fall. But gradually it became more. After joining the Corona Angels, her third Los Angeles-area team, it has become a full commitment.
The club, created and coached by Marty Tyson, claims that every player that has gone through the program has earned a college scholarship. Indeed, the current 26-player roster is already full of major-college commitments, including Jackson’s to Cal.
Every weekend from August to September, the Jacksons made the trip to Riverside County, mostly in Jazmyn’s 2013 Ford Fusion — the one she got in June and already has 20,000 miles on it.
Diffric and Diane switch off driving duties every other weekend. Diane likes to leave late Friday night and complete the 6-7 hour drive around midnight. Diffric likes to leave on Saturday, at around 1 a.m. They return Sunday afternoon.
“I do homework,” Jazmyn said. “I listen to music when I’m not sleeping. I talk to my parents, and try to keep them awake. When I’m getting tired, I definitely know they’re getting tired. I’ll say, ‘OK, Mom, we can do it.’”
While such long commutes are rare, Tyson said he has a player from Colorado and a tryout scheduled for another from Kansas.
The Jacksons stop for food in Gilroy and then it’s mostly non-stop down Highway 5 until gas and coffee at the Grapevine. From there, it’s just a couple more hours to Corona. The weekend will be filled with practice sessions, tournaments, or single games followed by instruction. Each player has a binder and studies the game and situations for homework.
It’s a grind, and it’s not for everyone, but the Jacksons say the experience has been worth it. “It’s been beyond anything we could’ve hoped for,” Diffric said.
“She is the first person I have ever taken from outside the program,” Tyson said.
“But the team has embraced her. She is the ultimate team player. She’s surrounded by players that are just as good as her, but she has earned the respect and heightened the competitiveness of every single person on the team.”
Jackson appreciates the fact that her development has come through the work and time put in by others. Indeed, her achievements and success are theirs, too.
“It comes from the support you have behind you,” she said.
“If you don’t have the support and people aren’t confident in you, you can’t be confident in yourself. A lot of props to my family, especially my parents, for always being there and never making me feel as if I couldn’t do something.”
Perhaps that’s why, on the softball field, she can do everything.
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