University of Miami shortstop Ryan Jackson is not entering the 2009 college baseball season empty handed.
While he is still working on winning a College World Series ring, Jackson is now the proud owner of a Seminole patchwork jacket as he is a newly initiated member of the Iron Arrow Society. The highly selective and secretive group, founded in 1926, is the highest honor that can be attained at UM.
The tapping process, which took place the Friday of Homecoming Week, involves marking the new member’s forehead with orange, white and green stripes. The ritual took the new baseball co-captain by surprise.
“I was just caught really off guard,” the junior sociology major said. “I was planning on going to eat breakfast and lift, then all of a sudden I’m walking around with paint on my head and a jacket on.”
Jackson admits that he knew little about Iron Arrow before he was tapped, but he has quickly learned all about the prestigious honor. Studying the society and its origins is part of the pledge process.
A candidate for Iron Arrow needs to receive unanimous approval by every member of the society and must exemplify several important characteristics: scholarship, leadership, character, humility and love of alma mater.
Hurricane head coach Jim Morris, who was inducted into Iron Arrow in 2002, said that Jackson’s attributes fit the bill.
“He’s only the second baseball player in my 16 years here at Miami [after pitcher Alex Santos in 1999] so it’s a huge honor,” Morris said. “He’s an outstanding player and student. He gives back to the community. He’s a very hard worker, a great kid, and he’s very respectful. He’s all the things that you look for to represent your school.”
The 6’3″ Miami Springs native puts as much effort into his schoolwork as he does his fieldwork. He is well aware that sports won’t always be there for him. When Jackson was younger, the motivation was obvious.
“The way I was brought up with my parents was that if you didn’t get good grades in school then you couldn’t play,” he recalled.
His parents, Leonard and Sally Jackson, noticed his ability to use the same passion he had for sports in the classroom.
“Academically, he’s always worked hard. School and athletics went hand in hand,” his mother said. “He liked getting good grades and enjoyed the achievement.”
Last season Jackson took his game to the next level by unleashing a much-improved offensive repertoire. His batting average jumped a whopping 124 points from the previous season, increasing his .236 average in 2007 to .360 in 2008.
His two biggest fans – his mother and father – were not surprised.
“We knew it would happen. We knew that the development was coming along,” Sally Jackson said. “He always figures it out. That’s the thing about Ryan.”
His hot bat and good glove have landed him on a number of exclusive preseason lists, including the College Baseball Foundation’s 2009 Brooks Wallace Player of the Year Watch List, the Golden Spikes Award Watch List and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Preseason All-America Team. Baseball America tabbed him as a second team All-American earlier this week.
As for the College World Series ring, it remains the top priority for Jackson heading into the spring.
After UM fell short last season, Jackson went on to play for the USA Baseball National Team. The team didn’t lose a game, finishing 25-0. He hopes to bring that winning mentality to a young Hurricanes squad that lost the majority of their offense to the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft.
In order to help the underclassmen mature quickly, Morris says the team needs Jackson and co-captain and junior right-hander Kyle Bellamy to do more than just lead by example.
“He’s got to step it up, help take control of the younger guys, and lead them in the right direction,” Morris said. “He’s very solid defensively and offensively and he works hard. The leadership role is something that he’s going to have to accept and get done.”
When Jackson speaks about his season goals, it’s evident that he is the man for the job.
“I just want to win. At Miami if you don’t win, it’s not a good season,” he said. “If Miami doesn’t end up in Omaha [for the College World Series], it’s not a success. Whatever I’ve got to do to help us win is what I’m going to do.”
– Major: Sociology
– In his iPod: Eminem, Stevie Wonder, Tim McGraw, James Taylor
– Must-read magazines: Baseball Express
– First job: Baseball camp counselor
– Favorite place to eat on campus: Jamba Juice
– Favorite meal: Lobster
– Favorite movie: 300
– TV Show: Entourage
– Worst habit: “I can never put down a baseball bat”
– Childhood idol: Derek Jeter
– Would love to trade places for a day with: Derek Jeter
– Favorite sport to watch at UM other than baseball: Football
– Pregame superstitions: Eats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before every game
– Significance of his uniform number, 8: “It was one of the only numbers available”