Jackson, 33, began his major league career with the Cubs in '85 and later played for the Padres, the Blue Jays, the Mets and the White Sox before spending the past two seasons in Japan with the Seibu Lions. Along the way he survived a bout with testicular cancer in '87 and later suffered through a mysterious and debilitating loss of weight that ruined his '93 season, which was split between Toronto and New York. That ailment was eventually diagnosed as Graves' disease.
Jackson returned to the U.S. this season, signing a minor league contract with San Francisco in December after he was told he would have a chance to compete for the starting centerfielder's job. Three weeks later the Giants signed free-agent centerfielder Darryl Hamilton to a two-year, $4.5 million contract. Predictably Jackson ended up as the odd man out, but he wasn't released by San Francisco until the final day of spring training, when all the other teams had already set their rosters.
Jackson contacted every major league club before hooking on with the Red Sox for two weeks of extended spring training. The Twins then offered him a chance to play for Salt Lake City, where he hit .300 in 19 games before getting called up.
After grounding out in his first at bat, Jackson doubled down the third base line with the bases loaded in the third inning. He came up with the bases full again in the fourth and slammed a 3-and-2 pitch from reliever Toby Borland into the leftfield bleachers. He finished 3 for 5 with a career-high six RBIs. After the game Twins manager Tom Kelly slipped when he praised the accomplishments of his new man, Darren Lewis, which is actually the name of the centerfielder for the White Sox. Jackson took it all in stride. "It's the best night of my 17-year career," he said. "It's been quite an odyssey, and this spring I hit rock bottom. But now, no matter what happens, at least for one night I proved to a lot of people that I can still play this game."
The Magic Padre
San Diego's magic number is 45. That's the jersey number of relief pitcher Doug Bochtler, a part-time magician whose diverse skills include the ability to make a handkerchief disappear and to saw a bat in half with a fastball.
At week's end Bochtler had a team-leading 1.42 ERA, and he attributes part of his success to his familiarity with the art of deception. First, Bochtler has a convincing changeup that keeps hitters off stride. And when he does throw what he admits is a relatively straight and hittable 90-mph fastball, he disguises his delivery by hiding the ball until the last possible moment. "When I pitch it's like when I do a magic trick, and I'm the only one who sees the illusion," Bochtler says. "To me it's just a stupid trick, but nobody else seems to get it."
Bochtler got serious about magic in 1993, thanks to Mike Campbell, a teammate at Triple A Las Vegas. He has since created an entire act of card tricks, levitations and assorted pranks that he regularly performs at local churches and schools to teach people about the dangers of deception. His favorite trick is one in which he appears to inhale a matchstick into his nose, an illusion he demonstrated last year on an episode of This Week in Baseball. A few weeks later, when the Braves visited San Diego, Atlanta second baseman Mark Lemke wouldn't let Bochtler leave the field during batting practice until he revealed how the trick was done. After the game that night Lemke repeatedly taunted teammate Jeff Blauser with the same disgusting trick.
Still, Bochtler admits that hocus-pocus will only take him so far when he's in the late innings of a close ball game. That point was hammered home last season when Bochtler pitched himself into a jam, prompting coach Dan Warthen to visit the mound. "If you're such a good magician," Warthen told his pitcher, "why don't you make the next hitter disappear?"
Lost in Pace
Through Sunday the Mariners' Ken Griffey Jr. was on pace to hit 75 home runs this season and to break the major league record with 198 RBIs. Baseball fans were on pace to read the words "on pace" 9,628 times. Before folks begin hyperventilating over these titillating projections, they would do well to remember that no single-season major league record in any significant hitting category—and that includes batting average, home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage, runs, hits, singles, doubles, triples, walks and total bases—has been broken since Roger Maris set the home run record in 1961. Further, it should be noted that during his monumental '61 season, Maris hit exactly one home run in April.