Jackson making own imprint on Tigers
Trade from Yankees gave center fielder 'best opportunity'
NEW YORK -- Austin Jackson is not Curtis Granderson. That won't change, no matter how many years he plays. He's his own player.
More importantly, Jackson isn't a Yankees prospect anymore, either.
He knows the patience required for a prospect to win a full-time job in the Bronx. He knows guys in the system he played with who still haven't gotten their shots, two years after he was traded. He doesn't like to get into what-if situations, but he has an idea about the challenge that might have been ahead for him.
As tough as it seemed to be the guy trying to replace Granderson, it beat the alternative. And as it turned out, Jackson is pretty tough himself.
"There were just a lot of guys ahead of me that were great ballplayers," Jackson said Thursday before the Tigers worked out at Yankee Stadium in advance of Friday's Division Series opener, "and they're still playing right now. The opportunity was definitely there for me [in Detroit]."
Fast forward, and every team appears happy about the deal. And every player involved is in the postseason, whether it's with Detroit (Jackson, Max Scherzer, Phil Coke, Daniel Schlereth), New York (Granderson), Arizona (Ian Kennedy) or, in Edwin Jackson's case after three more trades, St. Louis.
"When you make a trade, everybody starts to think, 'Why?'" Granderson said, "and, 'What's this about?', especially coming off the season that we had in 2009, being one game away with the All-Star players. We as a team felt we had the potential to do some great things. A lot of pieces started moving out of the way, and after that, everybody kind of gets their shape and takes form with their other teams."
That goes especially for the cases of Jackson and Granderson, two players who have become key cogs for their new teams. Granderson has become the middle-of-the-order presence that helped save the Yankees offense once Alex Rodriguez was injured and others struggled. Jackson became the spark plug at the top of the order that Granderson once was.
Jackson can look at Granderson's season and not feel like he's following in somebody's footsteps. He has long since felt comfortable in his own shoes.
"It doesn't affect me," Jackson said. "He's a good ballplayer. Everybody knows what he's capable of doing. I think he's proven that this year."
In trades, usually there's somebody who gets the short end of the scrutiny. If anybody seemed set for that, it was Jackson. He was the guy supposedly filling the shoes of the most popular player in the trade, taking over the spot previously held by arguably the most popular athlete in Detroit. He also was an unfinished product as a hitter. Realistically, he still is.
They haven't talked, but they've followed each other. And in Jackson's case, there's some admiration there.
"I haven't had a chance to talk to him," Jackson said, "but I've obviously seen what he's done. I'll catch SportsCenter every once in a while, and every time it seems like he's hitting a home run or something. That's good to see."
Those highlight shows have had their share of Jackson's plays, too. Usually, they're in the field, where his ability to run down drives to the depths of Comerica Park's outfield is unmatched. Other times, they're on the bases, where his 11 triples tied him for the American League lead.
The way Granderson has hit for power, it's entirely possible that Granderson could send Jackson in full retreat on a drive that could produce a highlight either way. If he hits it to right field and the cozier dimensions of Yankee Stadium, Jackson won't have a play. If he keeps it in the park between the gaps, chances are, Jackson's got a chance.
For the Tigers to get past the Yankees, like they did in 2006 when Granderson was Detroit's budding young center fielder, they're focused more on Jackson than they are on Granderson. Get Jackson going, and the great hitters in the middle of the order have opportunities to drive in runs down the line, from Magglio Ordonez to Miguel Cabrera to Victor Martinez and on down.
"He makes us go," manager Jim Leyland said.
He does it in a different way than Granderson -- more speed, more bunting, a right-handed bat, and less power.
When Jackson scores multiple runs this year, the Tigers are 14-2. He did it six times in September, including four straight days to start the month. Not coincidentally, those games started the Tigers on their 12-game winning streak that sent them running away with the AL Central.
For someone who had a struggling start and a little bit of a skid over the season's final week that left him just shy of the single-season franchise mark for strikeouts, it was a sign of his impact. It was also a confidence boost.
Some of that support came from within the clubhouse.
"Guys just keep me in good spirits," Jackson said. "Because it can be tough when you're struggling and you're not really doing your job. Me being a leadoff hitter, when I wasn't getting it done the way I wanted to, it was just kind of tough. It was frustrating."
Some, too, came from within the community, which he said never left him feeling he was replacing an All-Star.
"I think the fans definitely embraced that whole situation," Jackson said. "[Granderson's] a good guy. He meant a lot to Detroit. For them to kind of embrace me in that situation shows a lot about the Detroit fans. "
For him to come out of it shows a lot about Jackson. This series won't be about proving himself to the Yankees, he said. He just wants to win.
"I definitely envisioned myself playing center field one day for them," Jackson said. "But things happen for a reason. I got the best opportunity I ever got in baseball being traded over the Tigers."