Mudcats hitting coach at home with Carolina

Carolina Mudcats hitting coach Ryan Jackson is back in familiar territory. On and off the diamond.

The Triangle is like a second home for Jackson, who lives in Sarasota, Fla. He was an All-American and national player of the year at Duke and played two professional seasons with the Triple-A Durham Bulls.

"The familiarity is there," Jackson said recently at Five County Stadium in Zebulon, the Mudcats' home park. "This is my seventh year here now between four years at Duke and a couple of years with the Bulls. It's good to be able to come back to the area. I know what's it's like. ... It's amazing how things just keep coming full circle."

Jackson was an outfielder and pitcher at Duke from 1991-94 and rewrote the Blue Devils' record book. He holds the team record for home runs in a season -- 22 in 1994 when he was chosen as the Collegiate Baseball national player of the year -- and career homers (42).

And he still holds a share of the NCAA mark for consecutive games with a home run (8, also in 1994).

Jackson was drafted in the seventh round in 1994 by the Florida Marlins and had an 11-year professional career, playing parts of four seasons in the major leagues with Florida (1998), Seattle (1999) and Detroit (2001-02).

After retiring, Jackson needed a couple of classes to finish up his degree in sociology. So he went back to Duke, living with former teammate and current Duke coach Sean McNally.

At 35, he noticed some changes in the classroom the second time around.

"I walk into class with my spiral-bound notebook and everybody pulls out their laptops," Jackson said. "I'm trying to answer questions off the top of my head, and they are looking up things on Google and getting the answers. You realize the times have changed. I finished up and jumped right into coaching with the Cincinnati Reds."

Getting back into the game has turned out to be the perfect fit for Jackson.

"I went into my first year of coaching [2007] not knowing how I was going to feel about it," Jackson said. "All of the sudden you get the goose bumps after you work with a player and it starts to carry over into a game. You realize that it's the thing for you."

At the Double-A level, Jackson said, coaching becomes more about the approach to hitting than the mechanics of the swing.

"These guys are stating to get to know their swings," he said. "You always teach that timing, because it cures a lot of things. But we've moved on more to the mental part of the game, how the pitcher is attacking the hitters, where is he attacking the [strike] zone or not attacking the zone. For me, it's been fun. You can draw from your own experiences you had when you were playing.

"I've gone with that. So far, it seems to have worked. Our whole staff has played at every single level. So it's easy for us to relate."

And for Jackson, it's easy to relate to being back in the Triangle.