James D. Jackson: Games are a teacher of so many of life's lessons
MIDWEST CITY — I was just the new guy.
For nearly my entire life I played football, basketball and ran track competitively. But standing at 5-feet-6, I was beginning to fall out of the lineups and knew it would only get worse for me in high school.
So in the eighth grade, I decided to forgo the sports I had grown to know to play baseball. With a small stature, it was a sport I’d have an advantage in because I’d have a smaller strike zone.
But I started in quite the program.
When I entered the Carl Albert locker room as a timid freshman, feeling anxious but driven to prove myself, I was met by some of the best baseball players Oklahoma had to offer.
In front of their brand new floor-to-ceiling wooden lockers sat future professional baseball players Taylor Hawkins, Gavin LaValley, Cameron Warren, Corey Zangari and Justin McGregor, along with many future collegiate athletes — who I won’t even attempt to list.
Riley Cabral would also play professionally, but he would not sport a Carl Albert jersey until two years later.
Let’s just say my freshman year, I watched Stevie Thompson, who was the star quarterback and center fielder, catch the game-winning out in the state championship baseball game from my living room sofa. And if I’m being honest, to become a state champion without actually playing was not gratifying — I didn’t even buy the ring.
So the next year I was determined to be a part of the team. My plan was to use my God-given skills — speed and endless work ethic — to earn a spot. I ran miles around my neighborhood to prepare myself, even running into the assistant coach a few times, who gave me a nod.
And after every practice and during every home varsity game, I went into the batting cages and hit enough balls against the wall that the sound caught the attention of head coach Wayne Dozier.
By the end of the year, I was on the playoff roster. As somebody who was still learning the rules of baseball, I became an infamous courtesy runner on the back-to-back state championship team — I’m still ashamed of all the outs I caused.
Junior year, I finally made it into the lineup as the designated hitter. I continued to hit balls at the wall after practice while no one was watching. But on the other side of the cages was LaValley, who hit as every major-league scout watched. I still laugh at the disparity to this day; here I was hitting to stay in the high school lineup and LaValley was hitting to get drafted.
We won the state championship again in 2014, sending off the great senior class who led us every year.
Unfortunately, we failed to win my senior year, even after we rallied to the title game in Cinderella fashion.
When my baseball career was over, MaxPreps.com ranked me as the 16th best prospect in Oklahoma after recording a batting average of .402. Thinking about that still puts a smile on my face.
Why do I love sports?
Because of how sports prepared me for life. It’s not just running a ball to the other end of the field or putting a ball through a hoop or over the fence. There’s life lessons in learning to achieve a goal you worked so hard for.
When I entered The Oklahoman earlier this year — as a timid “freshman” — feeling anxious but driven to prove myself, I was met by some of the best journalists Oklahoma has to offer. I know with hard work and a little bit of luck, I can achieve what each of them have in their decorated careers.
Why do you love sports?
Email us your response at NICsportsdesk@oklahoman.com.