OF Jackson makes most of having to go to indy ball

It’s no secret that independent league baseball is about the last place most players want to be playing.

While the life of a minor leaguer is less than ideal, an affiliation with a Major League Baseball team at least presents a sliver of hope of one day being promoted to the bigs.

For Curve outfielder Bralin Jackson, the opportunity to play a year of independent baseball turned out to be just the spark the well-traveled player needed to rejuvenate his career.

“I’m a big believer in the idea that everything happens for a reason,” Jackson said. “I couldn’t really understand it at the time, but I felt like things happened the way they were meant to be. I was meant to go play independent ball at that time in my life in order for me to grow mentally and be mentally strong.”

Selected in the fifth round of the 2012 draft, Jackson played five seasons of affiliated ball for the Tampa Bay Rays’ organization. He made it as far as high-A ball, where he hit .254 with 10 home runs for the Charlotte Stone Crabs in 2016 before being released.

In the ensuing offseason, Jackson generated interest from a pair of indy-ball teams. The Kansas City T-Bones, not far from his high school in Raytown, Mo., expressed a desire to sign him before he eventually inked a deal with the Washington (Pa.) Wild Things of the Frontier League.

“It became strictly about just trying to win as a team atmosphere,” Jackson said. “You’re not going to get called up in independent ball. It was just going out each and every day, playing the best you can so that you win. That freed me up mentally.”

In Jackson’s lone season with the Wild Things, the right-handed hitter batted .294 with 16 home runs and 76 RBIs and stole eight bases. He won Frontier League All-Star Game MVP honors, impressing the Pirates enough for the organization to purchase his contract and invite him to spring training.

“He’s very good at everything,” Curve manager Michael Ryan said. “He can run. He’s got a really great outfield arm and can play great defense. He’s got some leverage from the right side and can run the bases. He’s very smart and has those intangible things you look for in a player. He’s a full package.”

Ryan can relate somewhat to Jackson when it comes to playing in indy ball. Ryan, who also was a fifth-round draft pick, spent the 2008 season in the Atlantic League, an advanced independent circuit, although that was late in his career and after he had played parts of four seasons in the majors with the Minnesota Twins.

Ryan made it back to affiliated ball and even earned another shot in the big leagues in 2010 with the Los Angeles Angels.

“You wonder if you’re ever going to get back to affiliated ball,” Ryan said of having to go to an independent league. “Sometimes the other stuff takes a back seat, which is nice. It become just all about winning. It’s not about who signed for the most money or who’s going to play. They sign guys specifically for that club to win. … On the backburner, it’s if I am ever going to get out of this league and be able to continue my career in affiliated ball.”

Since debuting for the Curve in late April, Jackson has hit .258 with three RBIs in 32 plate appearances.

While a season in Washington may not have been in Jackson’s master plan, this opportunity with the Curve gives him another chance to work toward his goal of getting to the big leagues.

“(The Pirates) told me that the opportunity would be here,” Jackson said. “They really like me as a player and the athleticism that I bring to the outfield. It was more or less me just having that same sense of freedom that I felt in independent ball and bringing it to affiliated ball to allow myself for my abilities to come back to play.”