To be 13 years old, Pine Bluff’s Ja’Kobi Jackson already had some solid numbers going into a baseball tournament in Southaven, Miss., last weekend.
What he did there while playing for a Conway-based travel team is more than he did earlier in the season. He smashed six home runs in a four-game span, helping the Dairy Queen Rawlings Prospects earn second place in the June Jam USSSA World Series Qualifier.
The soon-to-be Watson Chapel Junior High eighth-grader, whose brother Jaylen plays at Watson Chapel High, now has 10 home runs this season to go with a .553 batting average for the Prospects. Oh, and he’s hit five more homers with a .652 average in Junior Babe Ruth Baseball, playing for Pine Bluff-based Optimist.
“That’s the real deal,” his Optimist coach, Kenn Dickson, said. “The thing is he’s only 13 years old. A 16-year-old can’t do that. He hits the ball all the time. He’s just concentrated on hitting the ball opposite field, so if you throw away from him, instead of pulling away, go down and hit it the way where it’s pitched. He’s doing better at that.”
Jackson’s reason for his offensive prowess can be put in a single word.
“God, really,” he said. “I just started paying attention to the ball more.”
Jackson hit his six homers over the weekend against two different teams. On Saturday, he homered once against the Dulins Dodgers of Cordova, Tenn., and twice against the St. Louis Pirates. The next day, he belted one against the Pirates and two against the Dodgers.
The last homer, according to his grandfather, measured 440 feet.
“When I thought about playing them again, I thought they were going to try and work away from me instead of pitching to me,” Jackson said. The Prospects lost the championship game 5-4 to the Mississippi Rebels.
It’s not the first time in Jackson’s life he’s gone yard six times in one weekend. He recalled belting seven in a three-game stretch when he was 9.
Yes, in a weekend.
“I think he’s had some good coaches along the way,” his grandfather, Shade Culclager, said. “He’s athletic. He plays all three sports, and he’s good at all three sports — football, basketball and baseball — but he’s strong. He’s in the weight room. He’s getting stronger and he’s listening to the coach.”
Even with his outstanding numbers, Jackson, who’s a pitcher and outfielder, said he doesn’t concentrate on hitting for power or average.
“I just try to hit for the team so we can win,” he said. “I used to do that, but coach started making me hit for the team, so we can win games.”
And he never lets up on a play, whether he’s batting, fielding, running or pitching.
“He’s going to give you 100 percent on every play, defense or offense,” Dickson said. “He does not take a play off. He had a couple of doubles the other night, and he tried to stretch those to triples, and he was thrown out both times.”
Jackson won’t be eligible for the Major League Baseball Draft for another five years, but Culclager likes his grandson’s chances of being picked up by a franchise.
So does Dickson.
“If he continues on the path he’s going,” Dickson said. “You have to want to learn. You can’t ask for a better kid to coach.”