Hofstra's Kenny Jackson finds his power stroke, and big-league teams might find him soon
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Kenny Jackson, the guy people around Hofstra's baseball team call "The Big Steady," who friends say "can squat a house," wasn't always a slugger bound to attach his name to several school hitting records.
"I never had any power growing up," the senior outfielder said with a laugh. "I was more like a slap guy. I think I hit two home runs, tops, in high school. I was 6-2, 170 pounds coming in here."
Hofstra coach John Russo recalled: "I remember a game I went to at West Islip when Kenny was in high school, and yeah, he was skinny and all, but he was a lefthanded hitter and I felt like I'd seen his swing hit .300 every year that I've coached college. He just had the great, prototypical lefthanded swing."
The sweet stroke stayed. Muscles developed. An opportunity was seized. And now the once-skinny kid from Connetquot High School, with another season of gaudy statistics, could end up among Hofstra's top 10 in home runs, doubles and runs.
Entering a weekend series in San Antonio, he already was ninth in hits (178) and RBIs (111), according to Hofstra's athletic communications department.
Jackson, who belted a pair of home runs March 1 against Penn State, was batting .364 with the two home runs, five doubles and 10 RBIs through Hofstra's first 11 games.
During his freshman year, the Ronkonkoma resident added 18 to 20 pounds of what he called "much-needed muscle." Like many freshmen, though, Jackson was not immediately inserted in the starting lineup. He didn't see the field the first 10 games.
Then, when he finally got a chance, he ran with it.
"I think he went something like 22-for-42 in his first at-bats," Russo said. "It couldn't have been any better. I really think that period set up his whole career. It almost cemented his spot in the lineup for the rest of his career."
Said Jackson: "I was hanging on for dear life at that point. I was just hoping to stick."
Jackson finished his freshman season hitting .341 with one homer and 18 RBIs in 88 at-bats. As a sophomore, he hit .344 with four home runs and 51 RBIs. Last season, he batted .300, drove in 36 runs and smashed nine home runs, which was half of the team total.
"He's so consistent that we've nicknamed him 'The Big Steady,' " Russo said. "You just know what you're going to get from him."
The nickname was coined, Russo said, by former big leaguer-turned-announcer Steve Lyons during a series in Phoenix against Grand Canyon University.
"I never heard it in my life before that, but I'm cool with it," Jackson said with a laugh. "Some of the guys and coaches have joked about it, but hey, it means my production has been consistent, so that's fine by me."
The steadiness extends off the field, too. Friends and coaches are enamored of Jackson's reliability, kindness and generosity.
"I would trust Kenny Jackson with my life," said Bryan Verbitsky, one of Jackson's closest friends and a former roommate for three years. "I don't know anyone who can say anything bad about Kenny. I really don't."
Said Russo, "I have a small son named Chase, and if he grows up to be Kenny Jackson, I'd be one happy guy."
Verbitsky, a former Hofstra pitcher, was drafted by the Padres and signed with the club last year. He believes his friend has a shot this time around.
"I'm not a scout or a general manager," Verbitsky said, "but Kenny has been as steady as can be from day one. You can guarantee a .300 to .350 average, a ton of RBIs and clutch hits. And obviously, the biggest thing is the power numbers have really increased. He has a shot, in my book."
Jackson, who has cut down on his strikeouts this season and has his sights set on exceeding 10 homers, wants nothing more.
"I'd be there in a heartbeat," Jackson said. "And if it doesn't happen, I'll just have to join the real world, and that's something eventually we all have to do. For me, I'm hoping I have to do that when I'm closer to 42. It's been a dream of mine my whole life."