FORT BENNING, Ga. -- Around 150 children gathered Saturday at the Child, Youth and School Services Youth Sports Complex to participate in a mini baseball clinic led by Detroit Tigers pitcher Edwin Jackson and Shaw High School baseball players.
"It's good to be back at Fort Benning," said Jackson, who played baseball and football for CYS&S at Fort Benning in the 1990s when his father, Edwin Sr., was stationed here.
"My favorite part about the camp was seeing the smiles on the kids' faces and talking with them."
"Wow, it's really neat that I get to meet Edwin Jackson," said Jackson Hunter, 10, who saw Jackson play against the Minnesota Twins. "It's cool to think he used to play at Fort Benning when he was a kid."
Among those at the camp was Jackon's former CYS&S coaches, including John W. Peeler and Brian McCall.
McCall said he saw Jackson's early potential.
"I saw talent," McCall said. "With some kids you have to use redundancy (but not with Edwin). He picked up things quite quickly and he would run with it. I would use him as a peer instructor to help the other players."
The prep star played basketball, football and baseball until his sophomore year at Shaw High School, when he decided to put all his efforts into baseball.
"To make a long story short, his heart was in baseball and he stuck with it and it panned out for him," Edwin Sr. said.
But school came first, said his mom, Regina. "I always told him, 'You get good grades, you play sports. You get bad grades, you can't play sports.'"
Jackson's big break came in 2001, his senior year.
"There were two other kids scouts were looking at and it just so happens at this particular game we were playing at Golden Park against Columbus High School," Edwin Sr. said.
"Edwin was the center fielder and he threw one ball from center field all the way home and got the guy out. And from that point in time, the scout asked about him, but we had no intention of thinking he would be drafted because they never really came to look at him up until his senior year."
McCall remembers the throw by Jackson.
"It was close to the wall - close to 400 feet," he said. "Edwin threw a dart to home plate. There was no bounce, no nothing. It was a straight line drive probably at 95 miles per hour. It was incredible."
Shortly after the game, the Jacksons received a phone call from a major league scout saying they wanted to draft Jackson.
"It was an unexpected surprise to be drafted straight out of high school but playing in the major leagues was always a dream of mine," Jackson said.
Jackson was drafted in the sixth round by the Los Angeles Dodgers as an outfielder and later became a pitcher.
Jackson played with the Dodgers until 2006 when he was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays, where he led the team with a team-record 14 victories, but was left off the club's American League Division Series roster.
"There wasn't much I could do about not being selected for the (ALDS) game, so I just went on with a positive attitude," Edwin said.
"When Edwin was left off the roster, I was hurt for him because he was hurt," Regina said. "Edwin would never say anything (though). When we saw him, me being his mom, I could see his face and (saw) that he was hurt. He said 'it is what it is.' (But) I told him it's OK."
His parents always emphasized to him there would be ups and downs and he had to roll with them, Edwin Sr. said.
"Every game whether it's good or bad, I call him and tell him 'it's OK,'" Regina said. "I always tell him to give 110 percent and you can't control what the other players do, you just have to do your job."
Edwin's positive attitude paid off as he was put on the American League Championship Series roster. He pitched two innings in relief and went on to pitch two innings in Game 4 of the 2008 World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies.
"It is something I will never forget," Edwin Sr. said. "When he came out of the bull pen, it was excitement, nervousness and joy all bundled up in one. It was a feeling you never dreamed that you would be sitting watching your kid play in the World Series."
"It's hard to explain what it felt like to be on that field and play in the World Series," Jackson said. "It was amazing."
Jackson pitched in the 2009 All-Star game. In his career, he has 472 strikeouts, and a 4.66 earned run average, with 38 wins and 39 losses and is tied for the most wins in a season by a Rays pitcher with 14. In 2009, Jackson was traded to the Detroit Tigers, where he went 13-9.
"If you have a dream, don't let anyone tell you you can't do it and it won't come true," Jackson said to the children at the camp. "And remember, grades come first, then sports."
Jackson closed the camp autographing balls and T-shirts for the children.