Jackson brings action to baseball diamond

CN star signs with Albright to play football & baseball

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

Ashton Jackson deservedly earned the nickname “Action” Jackson for the excitement he created on the football field.

The Colts Neck senior has transferred that penchant for excitement to the baseball diamond this spring. He has turned himself into one of the most feared hitters in the Shore Conference, and certainly the most disruptive force on the base paths.

Pitchers are at a loss as to what to do with the Cougar. He’s turned himself into a disciplined hitter who can hit for average and power. Once on base, his blazing speed has made many a hurler wilt. He turns base-on-balls into a double or triple, setting the table for his teammates.

Jackson’s hitting and base running are a big reason why the Cougars repeated as Shore Conference A North Division champions.

The turnaround in the batter’s box Jackson attributes to Heryk DeJesus, who became his personal trainer over the winter.

DeJesus has two sons playing professional baseball. Dave DeJesus is the starting center fielder for the Kansas City Royals andMike DeJesus is in the Cincinnati Reds organization. When DeJesus talks about hitting, people listen.

“He helped me become more disciplined and he changedmy batting stance,” Jackson pointed out. “My front right foot was stepping forward. He’s gotten me to keep my weight back and then move forward.

“Before I was opening too wide and was only able to cover the middle and inside of the plate,” he added. “Now, I’m covering the whole plate.”

Jackson acknowledged that it took a lot of time to break his old habits. He developed a lot of blisters on his hands in the batting cage over the winter.

When it came to playing games and facing live pitching, he remained patient with his new stance until by muscle memory it became rote.

“I was OK with it,” he remarked. “I felt comfortable.”

Colts Neck head coach Mike Yorke has seen the difference.

“He’s matured as a hitter,” he pointed out. “He has more discipline. He’s laying off pitches and he’s hitting it where it’s pitched. He’s using all fields.”

Jackson explained that DeJesus’ philosophy is “where it’s pitched, you’ve got to hit it.” He’s taken that advice to heart.

Yorke added that Jackson has that rare combination of speed and power.As a left-handed hitter, he can turn a routine grounder to short into an infield hit with his hustle and track-like swiftness. But, he can turn on a pitch and send a rope into the gap. Yorke points to his conferenceleading seven triples and his 10 doubles as proof of his power.

Jackson has maintained his .500 average despite hitting in three different positions in the batting order – first, second and third. It doesn’t seem to matter to him where he hits.

“Batting third I see more pitches,” he said. “Batting leadoff my job is to set everyone else up by making the pitcher work. My job is to get on base and, as coach [Yorke] says, create havoc.”

No one creates havoc better than him. It’s a victory for the pitcher if, after Jackson gets on base, he can keep him from scoring.

Jackson’s prowess has teams searching for a way to pitch to him. Early on he’d see a lot of fastballs, now, he noted, they are throwing a lot more offspeed junk at him.

Nothing has worked at this stage. Jackson has gone from being an athlete who can stir things up to a genuine baseball player, one good enough to play at the next level. And, he is.

He recently committed toAlbright College where he will be able to play both football and baseball. That was important to him.

“I’m both, a football and baseball player,” he said, “I love them both. I’ve played baseball all my life.”

The Cougar started playing baseball in the Neptune Little League as a youngster and Howell Pop Warner later. What he likes about both is being a part of a team.

“What is most satisfying is going out on the field with your team,” he said. “That’s always great. I’m just there to play.”

This spring has been especially rewarding for Jackson and the Cougars. They backed up last year’s championships (A North and Shore Conference Tournament) and proved they are a winning team on their own. With the loss of fouryear starters A.J. Rusbarsky and Dominick Hayes, the cornerstones of Colts Neck baseball, many questioned the Cougars’ ability to replace them. They didn’t replace them, but they proved they are a team that is bigger than any players.

Jackson said that he remembered his freshman year when Hayes and Rusbarsky took him under their wings. He is doing the same. The torch has been passed and Colts Neck continues to win.