Simply Baseball Notebook straight from the source August 2002

Success Seems to Follow MIKE JACKSON

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Mike Jackson can be intimidating. At 6-2 215 lbs, his presence commands respect. When he glares at a batter from under the bill of his cap, which is pulled down over his eyes, he is downright menacing. When Mike Jackson steps off the mound, takes off his cap, and sits down to talk, however, you get a much different impression of the man. He is friendly, well-spoken, and full of baseball knowledge. I recently had a chance to chat with Mike Jackson. We discussed the game, his current team - the Twins, his career, and more.

Jackson finds himself in the midst of yet another pennant race this season with the Twins. A veteran of five post seasons, he says that this experience differs from anything that he's been through to this point. "I can't compare (the Twins) to some of the teams I've been on because most of the teams I've been on were veteran clubs with a lot of superstars," the right-hander explained. "This is a good young club. We've got some good arms in the bullpen, and these guys are still finding their way, finding out what they are capable of doing."

His formula for winning, though, is quite simple, "We just have to play consistent baseballplay better on the road. I just think we need to stay healthy," Jackson said.

Entering the 2002 season, experts pointed to the Twins bullpen as it's glaring weakness. But, to this point, they couldn't have been more wrong. While the injury-riddled starting rotation has struggled, the bullpen has been rock solid and is the single biggest reason the Twins have jumped out to a large lead in the AL Central (14 games as of 7/25). This shouldn't be a surprise, however, because wherever Mike Jackson goes, bullpen success seems to follow. What is his secret?

"I just think (I bring) a lot of wisdom," he commented. "I've been in the game long enough, I've been on a lot of good teams, a lot of good bullpens - I just try to tell the guys how to be consistent, how to be professional, and be competitive. The bullpen is a key part of winning games; if guys down there don't step up, it can be a cancer to the team."

Jackson's career seemed in jeopardy when he missed the entire 2000 season following major shoulder surgery. While he has returned and remains a productive player, we may never again see the dominant Mike Jackson of the late 90s. "It will never feel like it did before. I am not throwing as hard as I was before the surgery," Jackson admitted. "I feel good enough that I can go out there and be competitive and feel normal."

Despite a solid comeback year with Houston in 2001, Jackson received little interest this past off-season, and eventually signed a minor league deal with Minnesota. Why more teams did not pursue him remains a mystery. "I was kind of shocked this winter, after going to Houston and going 5-3 with 4 saves and pitching 67 games (in 2001). I was kind of amazed that no other clubs would give me a guaranteed contract. I don't understand why a guy with my track record and what I am capable of doing when healthy - there weren't a lot of genuine offers," he said. "I don't know if it was because of contraction I can't speak for other organizations, why they wouldn't give me a chance to go out and help their club. I am happy where I am at. The Twins gave me an opportunity to show what I can do."

A free agent following the season, Jackson doesn't plan on calling it quits anytime soon. "However long the Good Lord blesses me to stay healthy. That's the big issue - staying healthy," the reliever explained. "As long as I can go out there and stay competitive and get the job done. I am only 37, so I still feel like I can go out there and be competitive."

Jackson, who ranks 10th on the all time list in appearances (945 as of 7/25), has little left to accomplish in this game, but still has plenty of motivation to keep going. "I got a chance to play in a World Series in '97, but we (the Indians) didn't win it. Just winning a World Series - and my personal goal is to get to a thousand appearances before I check out," the 16 year veteran said.

A devoted Christian and family man, Jackson has simple, yet admirable plans when his playing career finally ends. "In the game of baseball there are a lot of advantages and disadvantages - you miss a lot of time at home with your kids and their activities. I just want to be able to spend time with my family and do more things with them and get involved with my kids activities - whatever they may be," the father of two said. "Hopefully one day I'll get a chance to preach the gospel somewhere."

As the Minnesota Twins continue the drive for their first playoff appearance since 1991, the battle-tested Mike Jackson will become more important as the season progresses. The only Twin with significant post season experience, Jackson will be relied on to provide leadership, guidance, and wisdom as well as get a few tough outs for the young squad.

-David Zingler

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Jackson's page @ Baseball-Almanac.com

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