Last fall, University of Utah pitcher Andre Jackson was on the mound when he suddenly felt his elbow pop. The strong-throwing righty — who had never been troubled by an injury before — knew that a feeling like that was not something to ignore. MRIs revealed that Jackson had torn his ulnar collateral ligament, and Tommy John surgery would be needed. Jackson underwent surgery in November, but due to the extensive recovery process he would have to redshirt the 2017 season and watch his team compete from the dugout.
“It sucks not playing,” Jackson said. “I handled it okay I think. I had the support, so it’s kind of easy to get through.”
This season has not been the most enjoyable ride for the outfielder and pitcher from Tucson, Ariz. Injuries are difficult, recovery is tedious and not being able to help the team has stung Jackson, who continues to attend the practices and home games.
In the 2016 season, Jackson made 24 starts in the outfield, had 11 appearances on the mound and started once at designated hitter. Losing the impact he had on the team in 2016 when he was able to hit, play outfield and pitch has been quite a blow to this Utah team.
“On paper he was either going to be a starter or a really important reliever for us,” said head coach Bill Kinneberg.
The pitching depth has been slightly affected with the team not having Jackson’s talent on the mound available to them. The hustle he brought to the outfield, as well as the strength he carried to the plate, are defining pieces that make up Jackson’s game.
“In the field, if you look back last year, he started playing regularly when we got hot, and there’s correlation there,” Kinneberg said. “Defensively he’s very good in the outfield, and he got a lot of key hits for us last year, and that’s something that we’ve missed a little bit.”
Jackson has learned how important it is to remain positive and continue to be a team player, something he is known for. Kinneberg said that maybe the most important thing that is missed on the field is his leadership and camaraderie, particularly when the Utes are on the road.
This injury has forced Jackson to look at the game in a different way. When Utah was struggling to clinch wins, the team got together and had a talk where Jackson was not shy to express what he saw from the outside looking in.
“I told them we take the game for granted,” Jackson said. “Being able to throw a baseball at all, we take that for granted. That was something I couldn’t do a month ago. I told the team if there was something I could give you guys is don’t take anything for granted, because this game could be taken away from you just like that. I think that put things in perspective.”
Jackson continues to have a big influence on his team, but in a different way. Although it is not by putting up big numbers and doing his part by taking care of business on the diamond, his example and the way he has handled this difficult time has been a great learning lesson for not just him but also for his teammates.
This injury is more common in baseball players than ever before, but its surgery gives Jackson hope for his future. The surgery is named after former major leaguer Tommy John, the first baseball player to have it performed on, who went on to win 164 games after the procedure. Knowing that people can and have made full recoveries and still get to continue playing the game is worth everything that Jackson has to endure right now.
“They say the people that take the rehab serious and do it well come back the best,” Jackson said. “So that’s what I’m trying to do.”