As Alex Rodriguez became only the second New York Yankees player in the storied franchise to reach 3,000 hits, two more men wearing pinstripes in the Big Apple achieved history with a couple of swings of the bat themselves on Friday night: the first hit of a professional career they hope will lead them to Yankee Stadium, and Yankee stardom.
Two of the Yankees’ 2015 draft picks, Kyle Holder and Jhalan Jackson, were on the Staten Island Yankees roster making their 2015 season debuts as the short-season New York Penn League commenced on a humid night on the banks of New York Harbor. And judging by record crowd of 7,843 spectators that jammed into Richmond County Bank Ballpark, as well as the traffic jams and overcrowded parking lots that preceded the event, one might think that festive scene and commotion would be reserved for Major League history in the making.
That history was happening across the Upper New York Bay, but Holder and Jackson were the star attractions for fans of the Baby Bombers, to go along with the usual pomp and regalia that comes with any Opening Night. Holder, a shortstop from the University of San Diego, was drafted just 11 days ago in the 2015 MLB Draft as one of the first-round picks of the Yankees. That selection almost immediately brought on conjecture that the Bronx Bombers had just drafted the possible heir apparent to one Derek Jeter.
No pressure, right?
“There were a little nerves running through the body,” Holder said, describing his feelings the night before his professional debut. After going hitless in his first two at-bats against the crosstown Brooklyn Cyclones, Holder grounded a single up the middle in the sixth inning, part of a 1-for-5 night.
Jackson also had one hit, but his went much farther, and almost was fitting of a dramatic entrance made for Broadway. In the second inning, Jackson, a power-hitting seventh-round selection out of Division II Florida Southern, lined the first pitch he saw as a pro over the left field wall and into the trees behind it to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead.
If a first-round draft selection who plays shortstop can draw possible comparisons to a certain Derek Sanderson Jeter, then a outfielder – especially a right fielder – with the surname of Jackson hitting a homer while wearing pinstripes in New York must mean we might be seeing the next…
…let’s put the Mr. October comparisons to bed right now! We’ll just let the former Division II All-America enjoy his moment after Day One on the job.
“Seeing the crowd, I was like, ‘Man, I don’t want to embarrass myself,'” said Jackson, who was used to playing in front of home crowds not topping 300 spectators this spring. He continued: “We had a runner on first, and I needed to get that run across. So I just went up and did my job.”
At the end, the fact the Yankees dropped a 3-2 decision to the Cyclones in 12 innings took a backseat to the overall satisfaction etched on almost all of the Yankees faces playing Game 1 of the season and/or their careers. The mood in the clubhouse was loose, as expected with a bunch of young 20-somethings (or younger) beginning a journey doing a job they love, and now get paid to do. But as a reminder of the greatness they are expected to achieve wearing pinstripes, motivational quotes ranging from Yogi Berra to General MacArthur are hung above almost each of the lockers.
Upon entering the clubhouse, you’re greeted by the first quote, uttered by the Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio: “I want to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee.”
Holder took it one step further.
“I can’t thank the Lord enough for giving me this opportunity to play and play for the New York Yankees. It’s definitely a dream come true.”
[Cover photo (Jhalan Jackson) courtesy of Bill Lyons/Staten Island Advance]