El Camino Real.
They were Pac-10 opponents in 2002, at Arizona State and Cal.
Northwest League opponents in 2003, at Spokane and Yakima.
Texas League opponents in 2004, at Frisco and El Paso.
Pacific Coast League opponents in 2005, at Oklahoma and Tucson.
And at every one of those steps, Conor Jackson was more highly regarded than Ian Kinsler, at certain times exponentially so.
The two right-handed hitters, each of whom broke into the big leagues in the other’s home state (Jackson was born in Austin but would attend El Camino Real High School in the Los Angeles area), could realistically have become teammates in 2007, when Arizona finished as runner-up in the chase to acquire Rangers first baseman Mark Teixeira, with a package that was fronted by Jackson, AA outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, and possibly lefthander Brett Anderson as a player to be named later (once he’d been a pro for 12 months in early September).
Texas then wanted to make them teammates in June 2010, but the Diamondbacks weren’t going to help subsidize the cash-strapped Rangers without getting a significant prospect or two in return. (The A’s came away with Jackson that summer [for TCU product and former Rangers draftee Sam Demel] because they were willing to take on more of the $1.5 million or so that remained of his 2010 salary than Texas was.)
Instead, Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz and Matt Harrison and Jarrod Saltalamacchia became Kinsler’s teammates in 2007, and in 2010 it was Jorge Cantu rather than Jackson who came in to give Texas a right-handed bat for the pennant run.
Andrus and Feliz and Harrison remain integral parts of what in some ways might be viewed as Kinsler’s team, and now Jackson will suit up with them later this month.
On a minor league contract.
One that probably has an out clause permitting him to find another team by a specified date if it’s looking like he’s headed for Round Rock rather than Arlington.
This shouldn’t be viewed as a huge longshot. At age 29, it’s conceivable that Jackson (who is six weeks older than Kinsler) might have something left, with his 2009 valley fever and pneumonia scare and 2010 major hamstring issue and abdominal surgery well in his past.
But he may not.
Sometimes they refind themselves, and turn into Marlon Byrd or Gary Matthews Jr.
A lot more often they’re Chris Shelton or Ryan Garko.
Like his dad, Conor Jackson is now relegated to playing a supporting role, at best, something few would have guessed would be his lot as a 29-year-old after the way the former first-round pick tore through the minor leagues and established himself early with the Diamondbacks.
But at least Jackson stands a good chance to be playing pro ball when he turns 30, somewhere, which is more than could be said for Hank Blalock, whose place on Top Prospect lists as he was coming up was in territory that not even Kinsler or Jackson would ever touch, and whose last game in pro ball came on June 27, 2010, batting eighth and DH’ing for a Rays team that fell on that day to the Diamondbacks, 2-1.
Blalock’s final act was a harmless groundout to first baseman Rusty Ryal, who was manning the position that on some days Jackson had occupied before being traded away two weeks earlier. Blalock finished the game on deck, with the bat on his shoulder, as B.J. Upton flew out to center with the tying run on first. He was designated for assignment two days later, and after clearing waivers Tampa Bay released him, not even asking him to return to AAA Durham, where he’d started the season.
It’s a game of failure. Some, like Kinsler, find ways to keep getting better, and it’s around those types that winning teams are built. Others, like Blalock, shine bright and fade quickly. Jackson was supposed to be the former but wasn’t, yet he now has the chance to do what Blalock couldn’t and what Byrd could, to bury the failed expectations and, at some level, reestablish a once-promising career. It’s not necessarily too late.