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Seneca Valley grad Jackson striving to get back to major leagues

| Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 3:15 p.m.
Zach Jackson, 30, a Seneca Valley graduate, is now a member of Washington Nationals organization.
Zach Jackson, 30, a Seneca Valley graduate, is now a member of Washington Nationals organization.
Zach Jackson, 30, a Seneca Valley graduate, is now a member of Washington Nationals organization.

A lot has changed in Zach Jackson's life since he debuted in the major leagues with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2006.

After eight big-league starts, Jackson, a Seneca Valley graduate, was sent down to Nashville, the organization's AAA affiliate.

There he met Ashley Kingsbery, an aspiring country singer who had three rules about dating: First, she wouldn't date a musician or professional athlete. Second, she wouldn't date anyone younger than she is. Third, she wouldn't date anyone shorter than she is.

Jackson, who is 6-foot-5, broke Kingsbery's first two rules.

Fortunately, she made an exception for him, and the detour in his pursuit of the big leagues has proven to be a “blessing” for them.

“She's been my rock for a long time,” said Jackson said.

They got married in 2009 and now have two children, Tyson, 3, and Cambrynn, 2 — so he's not just pitching for himself anymore.

“I think he is a better man today in sports and in his family than he was when he started this journey, because he's grown so much because of her,” said Susan Jackson, the baseball player's mother. “Ashley is his greatest fan, and I would say, ‘I am,' but she really is.”

After being drafted by the White Sox in 2001 after his senior year of high school, Jackson turned down an offer from the White Sox in order to pitch in college, where he starred at the University of Louisville for two seasons before transferring to Texas A&M for one year.

His dominance in college continued, and when the Toronto Blue Jays picked him in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft in 2004, he accepted.

Jackson hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2009, playing for several minor league teams, but he has made adjustments within the last 13 months to try to make it back.

“What seems like the impossible thing to do is to get to the big leagues, when actually the hardest thing to do is to stay there and establish yourself,” Jackson said. “I truly believe in the bottom of my heart that it is still possible to get back to the big leagues and stay there.”

Jackson made a complete transition to reliever last season with Northwest Arkansas, which is Kansas City's AA affiliate. He primarily was used as a lefty-on-lefty reliever.

He also decided to go from an over-the-top delivery to throwing sidearm.

“I was very fortunate that the Royals gave me an opportunity to test that experiment out last season and take a chance on me,” Jackson said. “It was either going to work or it wasn't.”

It worked.

He had a 1.32 ERA in the minor leagues last season, by far the lowest it ever has been.

He signed with the Washington Nationals organization this past offseason, and they plan to use him in a relief role in Syracuse, where their AAA affiliate is located.

“That's the plan, but in baseball, anything can happen, anything can change,” Jackson said.

His wife knows that as well as anyone. She has traveled to six different cities with Jackson since their relationship began.

“It's a crazy, crazy lifestyle,” she said. “Every time he goes to the field to pitch, I always go, ‘Make our dreams come true,' because his dream became my dream. For me, it's not about money, it's about his success and how hard he works every day. He deserves to be up there every day for a while.”

Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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