Jackson College baseball program produces pro talent. Alums reflect on their time here and the path to the pros.
The crack of a bat. A baseball hitting a catcher's mitt. Typical sounds from a baseball game.
What else is starting to become typical? Players who got their start at Jackson College who were drafted by Major League Baseball organizations.
Such as Eric Hildebrand.
From Jackson College to the Chicago White Sox organization
The 23-year-old right hander pitched for Jackson College in 2019. He came here due to fit.
"I really liked the coaching staff, liked the campus a lot and I liked how they had dorms on campus. That really appealed to me. I definitely think it was one of the better decisions I've ever made," he said.
After spending one year at Jackson College, he transferred to Purdue University. In July 2022, he signed a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox organization.
"Jackson College gave me the great opportunity to improve my baseball skills, improve as a person and really helped develop me to the person I am today," Hildebrand said. "I think it's a great opportunity for everyone."
Hildebrand isn't the only JC alum gearing up for another season. So is Caleb Baragar.
A JC pitcher makes it to the Majors
The left-handed pitcher played for Jackson College from 2013 to 2014 and once pitched two no-hitters in the same week. A first-time feat for a Jet.
Just like Hildebrand, he was drawn to campus housing and fit.
"I really liked all the stuff the pitching coach at the time was saying and I liked Coach Rick Smith too," he said. "They had dorms which was cool for a junior college. There weren't any really other ones that had that; I knew they were going to be pretty good. It just felt like the right spot."
Baragar said his experience at Jackson was fun.
"It was definitely more competitive than I expected it was going to be my first year coming out of the gate. As soon as I got here, I saw there's really some good players here which definitely helped push me to get better," he said.
Baragar would go on to play for Indiana University and then be drafted by the San Francisco Giants organization.
He made his Major League debut with San Francisco during the 2020 COVID-shortened season. Striking out the side in camp is what he believes led him to make the team.
"It was a testament to my determination and my drive to not quit and it's what's made me good. I haven't been the most talented player, but I've always been driven," he said.
Caleb now pitches for the Cleveland Guardians' AAA affiliate Columbus Clippers.
Other JC alumni that made it professionally
"The philosophy of Jackson College baseball is to move players on to the next level when they are ready or just further their education," Coach Rick Smith said. "Players who come here are expected to win and have memorable memories while enjoying their career at JC."
Last year they were able to send 14 players to four-year universities with scholarships.
Jets alumni who made it to pro ball, including Caleb and Eric, since 2006 include:
- Dan Bream – drafted 33rd round by Tampa Bay in 2013
- Blake Higgins – drafted 16th round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006
- Alex Manasa – drafted 16th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2018
Who will be the next Jet to make it professionally?