Edwin Jackson Jr. pitches at the WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier Super Round on June 05, 2021 in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
There are few things in the game of baseball that Edwin Jackson hasn’t seen or done. He’s pitched in an All-Star Game and two World Series, winning one ring, across a 17-year career with a record 14 different teams.
But the Olympic Games? That’s something totally new. And the significance of it isn’t lost on the 37-year-old righthander.
“I’ve been on 14 MLB teams, I’ve put on a lot of different jerseys, but this jersey is different,” Jackson said from Tokyo, where the U.S. begins its tournament Friday against Israel. “This one not only represents a city or a state, this one represents our country. It represents more than just the name on the back. It represents those who put their lives on the line for us to be free. It represents those who are sacrificing every day, leaving their families to make sure that we have everything that we need in the States. To go out and be a representation of the country is something that I could only dream of.”
Jackson is without a doubt one of the most experienced players on the U.S. roster, with the aforementioned achievements and 412 major-league games. His most recent came in 2019; Jackson had a minor-league deal with Arizona in 2020 but that season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Jackson was released.
Save for one Olympic tune-up appearance with the Atlantic League’s High Point Ducks, Jackson’s entire body of work in 2021 has and will consist of his time wearing stars and stripes. Jackson got the win in relief June 5 against Venezuela at the Americas Qualifying Event that officially clinched the U.S. a place in Tokyo.
“It’s exciting,” Jackson said. “We got here on the 22nd and our first game is on the 30th so there’s some buildup until when we start but just soaking everything in, acknowledging that you’re in a village full of world-class athletes from different ethnicities, different shapes, different sizes, and knowing that you are one amongst them it’s pretty exciting, it’s pretty dope to be here in this atmosphere.”
There will be a few differences from the last time Jackson pitched in the big leagues, such as a 12-second pitch clock — “It’s not a preference,” he said, “but it’s something that we’ll get used to” — and most conspicuously, a lack of fans in the stands. Jackson will miss not only the energy from the crowd but also seeing the famous baseball fan culture of Japan up close.
“It would’ve been dope to get here and see the culture of the country and baseball,” he said. “You hear so much about it in America it would’ve been fun to have that experience and be able to go out and see the fans cheering and chanting, even if we don’t understand what they’re saying, just to know and soak up that feeling would’ve been pretty cool.”
No fans also means no in-person support for Jackson, though he’ll feel their presence back home.
“All the family (will be watching),” he said. “My wife and kids in Arizona, my mom, my dad in Columbus, Georgia, my sisters are in Atlanta and all my family and friends are worldwide, across the country, there’s been a lot of support and there’ll be a lot of eyes tuned into our games.”
A lack of rabid hometown fans could, however, prove to be an advantage if the U.S. runs into the hosts, the world’s No. 1 team. Japan will present one of the biggest challenges to the fourth-ranked Americans for the gold medal. Jackson believes that the team, made up of minor league prospects and MLB veterans not currently on an active roster, has what it takes to compete with anyone.
“I feel like we’re ready,” he said. “We have a mix of guys from all over, young, old, some ex-major leaguers, some not, a lot of future major leaguers. But we’re ready to play. We’re here, we feel like everybody wants to beat the U.S. but we’re taking that on. It’s us against the world is the way we feel, and every game is a Game 7, a must-win situation. So that’s how we’re approaching it.”
Jackson knows as well as anyone what a Game 7 is like. While he pitched in Game 4 for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2011 World Series, he no doubt remembers the tense feeling of watching with his teammates as the Cardinals won in seven games. That World Series ring would be the crowning achievement for many players, but Jackson believes he’s on the cusp of something even bigger.
“(A gold medal) would be an icing on the cake,” he said. “I’ve had 17 major league seasons, and if I could go out an Olympic gold medalist, that would be something that I could’ve never imagined.
“I couldn’t imagine I would be here on Team USA right now and to go out with a gold medal, man, I’m not a big crier but I might have tears coming out of my eyes then.”
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo2020 to view the medal table, results and competition schedule.