Former Maryland Star Finds Glory in Professional Softball
July 3, 2007
FAIRFAX, VA. - The field and the uniform are different, but little else has changed for Amber Jackson. Two months after her final game for the University of Maryland, the former Terp star shortstop has become an all-star both on and off the field for the Washington Glory, an expansion team in the National Fast Pitch professional softball league.
The first inning of last nights game between the Glory and the Akron Racers, the top two teams in the NPF, began like so many others Jackson saw in her college career. She took an easy grounder from Veronica Wootson, her long-time friend and Akron's lead-off hitter, and effortlessly tossed it to first base with her familiar semi-sidearm motion. The next batter drilled a ball just out of her reach, but Jackson had her revenge, when she grabbed a grounder from the third hitter, tagged second base, and then rifled the ball to first for the double play to end the inning.
"She's been awesome," said Glory season ticket holder Erin Ebsen. "She started her rookie year and BOOM! I know the owner's been very impressed with her."
In the bottom of the inning, Jackson showed her offensive game has also translated well to the professional level. In her first at-bat, she smashed the ball right back at Jamee Juarez, and only quick reflexes and a well-placed glove saved the pitcher's face. The ball bounced harmlessly into the dirt as the crowd gasped, and Jackson had a single for her only hit of the night. The league-leading Glory went on to grab a 3-2 victory in the game, and stand alone atop the standings at 15-5.
The NCAA leader in home runs this past season, she now leads the NPF in RBIs with 18, and has a decent shot at the triple crown. She is currently fourth in both home runs (4) and batting average (.385), with more than half the season still to go.
While her on the field exploits have earned her popularity with Glory fans, it is her off the field work that has drawn the praise of Glory owner Paul Wilson.
"Amber's one of the great, great people," Wilson said. "She's one of the neatest individuals I've met. She has a big heart, and she wants to help children in disadvantaged areas."
To that end, Jackson is heading up a Glory-backed endeavor, called Champions for Children, with the goal to bring inner-city kids out to Fairfax where they can practice softball and learn life skills, away from the challenges of the inner city.
"It's similar to my career goals, and it's something I'm really studying," said Jackson, who continues to pursue her master's in human development at Maryland. "That was a big reason I came here, because Paul's goals were similar to my own."
Wilson has made a conscious effort to reach out to the community and build a strong relationship between the Glory and its fans. Players are available on the field after every game for autographs, and then move to nearby Brion's Grill for dinner with fans.
In addition to Jackson's charity initiative, Wilson is planning on opening an indoor training facility in Ashburn, Va., this fall, which will feature pitching, hitting, and elite training, using high tech equipment and video analysis. Jackson and her teammates will train there, as well as teach the game to visiting children.
All of this activity seems to have rejuvenated Jackson, who was unsure at first whether she wanted to continue her career on a professional level.
"Seeing all the kids, they make me smile," she said after a small boy, clad in a red, white and blue Glory t-shirt came up to her to congratulate her on the win. "Win or lose they are excited to see us play, and it makes it all worthwhile."