COLUMBIA — It's an enviable and yet odd position in which Summerville's Steven Jackson found himself.
Jackson was part of baseball's worst pitching staff for a week. But, he didn't make an appearance before being sent back down Tuesday.
The New York Yankees are having all kinds of pitching problems. So much that Jackson, a 6-5 right-hander, was summoned a little more than a week ago from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes- Barre before being returned there to make room for former Charleston RiverDogs pitcher Phil Hughes.
But the Yankees didn't turn to the former Clemson standout for what would be his major league debut. It was one part dream come true, one part torture.
"It's tough," Jackson said Sunday. "You've just got to stay mentally prepared to pitch."
Jackson was more than mentally prepared on a couple of occasions.
The Yankees needed 14 innings to beat Oakland on April 22. Jackson was warming up in the 12th, 13th and 14th innings of that marathon victory.
But Jose Veras, who went 3 1/3 innings to get the win, was pitching so well that Jackson's number was never called. Jackson was set to pitch the 15th inning, but Melky Cabrera homered to end the game.
Then, after the Yanks and Red Sox combined for 27 runs (Boston scored 16 of them) this past Saturday, it seemed all but certain that New York would need Jackson on Sunday.
Jackson was up late (again), but Mark Melancon, the latest to be called up from Triple-A, pitched the final two innings.
So Jackson's debut waits. The team's 6.27 ERA entering the week was the worst in baseball, behind even the ragtag Washington Nationals staff.
Jackson got the call the same day the Bombers surrendered 22 runs to the Cleveland Indians in a dreadful opening weekend at the new Yankee Stadium.
Scranton manager Dave Miley, formerly a manager for the Cincinnati Reds, let Jackson know that he'd made the Show.
He was at the Triple-A park at 6:30 the next morning to collect his things and head for the Big Apple.
Jackson and his wife stopped in Edgewater, N.J., where he met his unofficial Yankees tour guide, former College of Charleston standout and Yankees center fielder Brett Gardner.
"It's kind of weird that a kid from Holly Hill and a kid from Summerville are playing for the Yankees," Jackson said. "We didn't even know each other growing up."
Gardner and Jackson have gotten tight in the past couple of years. Particularly since Gardner moved a few houses down from Jackson in Summerville.
In the offseason, they go hunting three or four times a week.
Jackson had been to new Yankee Stadium before — he pitched in the final spring exhibition games there against the Chicago Cubs — but only by subway.
Gardner showed him the vehicular way that first day.
Even though Jackson had just been there a couple of weeks before, there was something different about walking into Yankee Stadium on a game day.
"I had a moment where I thought, 'Man, I've made it,'" he said. " 'I'm part of the Yankees. This is baseball's crown jewel.' "
Jackson earned that moment.
He'd toiled in the minors since leaving Clemson following the 2003 season, first in the Arizona system and then with the Yankees.
Using an improving slider to go with an above-average fastball and an effective split-fingered pitch, Jackson turned a corner last season with Scranton.
More than the mechanics of his pitches, Jackson said it had a lot to do with a new mental approach. He says he's done overthinking every single matchup. He wants to believe in his pitches, making the hitters adjust to him and not the other way around.
"I just really focused on executing pitching and not necessarily who was hitting," he said. "If I execute my pitches, nine times out of 10, I'm going to be successful."
Clemson coach Jack Leggett said he's glad to see a former Tiger getting a shot in the bigs.
"We're proud of him," Leggett said of the 10th-round selection in the 2004 draft. "That's a tough organization to make it in. They don't exactly promote from within that often.
"He's a competitor. I thought he'd have a chance with the right organization. We're happy for him."
Jackson's trek to the Yankees wasn't a straight line. Not even close.
But, in hindsight, he's OK with the snaking curves to reach baseball's highest level.
"I feel more prepared," he said. "In college and the minors, I went through a lot of ups and downs. I've been through everything I could possibly go through.
"I feel prepared now for anything that happens."
Now, if he could just get the ball.
"I'll just keep being patient," he said. "It'll happen."
Reach Travis Haney at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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