By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – “Dive! Dive! Dive!”
Detroit Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson could hear right fielder Torii Hunter screaming at him even as Jackson went in for the catch, and he followed Hunter’s advice, leaping toward the ball and snagging it, preserving the 0-0 tie between the Tigers and the Oakland A’s.
When Jackson laid out to make the grab, surprise and delight stirred in the stands, dugout and press box alike.
The move garnered such widespread reaction because Jackson hardly ever dives – and yes, he knows people notice.
“I get it all the time in the outfield,” Jackson said, smiling and giving an example, complete with a spot-on impression. “The ball drops, and I get the, ‘Come on, just dive for it!’ It’s more probably a couple drunk fans out there that didn’t see that the ball landed 20 feet in front of me.”
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said players choose for themselves to dive or not to dive, and the decision often comes down to personal preference.
“You have to have a knack for it,” Ausmus said. “Some people just aren’t comfortable diving. It’s not that they’re worried of diving or afraid of diving … Unless you actually do it a few times and get comfortable with it, it’s hard to get past that sometimes.”
For Jackson – whose teammates teased him that Monday night was the first time they had ever seen him with grass stains on his uniform – any discomfort with diving seems to lie in the possibility of misplaying a ball and exacerbating an already less-than-ideal situation.
“It’s tough,” Jackson said. “A lot of balls I think that I can catch, and I just try to stay on my feet to avoid maybe a double. It’s a big outfield, especially when you’re talking about the center of the field. I think it’s something I’ve just got to get more comfortable with and trust that some of those balls that drop, [to] just go ahead and attempt it.
“It depends on the situation,” Jackson added. “You don’t want to just be out there diving for balls and you’ve got speedsters on base. That could end pretty bad, but like I said, I just need to get a little more comfortable with it, and hopefully it’s something that I can add to my game.”
Jackson’s sliding catch provided viewers with a rare treat, but he had an even more impressive highlight later in the game, squaring off with Oakland reliever Sean Doolittle, who had only walked one batter all season. Jackson battled, fouling off pitch after pitch after pitch, and he finally got a walk. By loading the bases with his walk, Jackson set the stage for a Rajai Davis walk-off grand slam.
Needless to say, Jackson’s catch was relegated to secondary status in the realm of highlights from Monday’s game.
“The diving catch was a little different because I think I hit my knee before I actually caught the ball, which was kind of weird,” Jackson said. “I don’t ever really [remember] seeing too many diving plays where guys hit their knee before they catch it, but it was just something where, just got a good jump on it, I heard Torii just screaming at me, ‘Dive! Dive! Dive!’ He got me pumped a little bit.
“That felt pretty good,” Jackson added. “But the walk that led to that walk-off grand slam, that was pretty awesome.”