Most baseball players stepping onto the diamond at John Thurman Field for the first time look at the expanse of the outfield and envision their power numbers melting away.
Anthony Jackson looks at the gaps and sees them as a major part of his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The 2008 California League season is Jackson's for the taking. He's the opening-night center fielder for the Modesto Nuts, which means he'll use the gaps defensively to improve his skills in the field and offensively to turn line drives into doubles and triples.
And he'll do it at home.
When Jackson — a graduate of Davis High, Modesto Junior College and University of the Pacific — takes the field for tonight's season opener in Stockton, he'll become the first Modesto native to man a position for the local minor-league team in 25 years.
The last was Bruce Amador, who also went from Davis to MJC before manning second base for the Modesto A's in 1983.
"There might be a little added pressure in playing in front of my family every day," said Jackson, who turns 24 in June. "I'll be trying to play well for them, since they'll be in the stands. Overall, though, I think it will be a fun and good experience. I will be needing to get a lot of tickets, but it's not like I have a posse."
Yes, there is that danger every time a player returns to his hometown. If an athlete hung around with a fast crowd before turning professional, all of that element will be vying for a share of his time the instant he steps back onto the home turf.
"It all depends on the guy," Nuts manager Jerry Weinstein said. "If he's a good guy with good friends, it will be great. I suspect for A.J. it will all be good. If you have character guys on your team, it's never a problem. If they're not of strong character, it doesn't matter whether they're playing at home or not because they'll find bad friends in whatever town they play in. A bad guy always is going to find likewise idiots."
For Jackson's part, he chuckled at the notion that returning home could be anything but positive.
"I don't think I'll have to worry about that," said Jackson, who earned a bachelor's degree in communications in 2006 before Colorado took him in the 16th round of that year's draft. "It's a situation that I've yet to face, but if it does come up, I'll have to make the right decision. I'm mature enough to do that."
He also is mature enough to recognize his weaknesses, and what he needs to accomplish this season to continue his climb up the Rockies' organizational ladder.
Jackson is a .244 hitter through two professional years and has a .317 on-base percentage that is quite low for someone targeted as a potential leadoff hitter.
"I need to lessen my strikeouts and improve my on-base percentage," Jackson said. "I will be doing a lot more bunting and finding ways to get on base. I am a work in progress. I've made a lot of adjustments and have been working hard, so things are getting better for me all the time. The Rockies like me, they want me to get better, and I want to get better."
Yet, it's one of the truths of baseball that the higher you move, the more difficult the game becomes. Jackson stole 34 bases last season with Asheville (N.C). To match that total in the California League would be quite a feat, but Jackson's aim this season is 50 steals.
"Up here, it's all about picking the right time to run, and I need to work hard on that," he said. "But that's another part of the challenge that I am looking forward to taking on. I think I can get more than 50 stolen bases this year, and that's a goal." Playing at home means Jackson gets to live at home and eat home cooking. In the salary-poor low minors, that's a huge break. But before you think Jackson has a home-field advantage, consider that before Tuesday's exhibition game against MJC, Jackson hadn't played a game at Thurman Field.
Decades ago, including the time when Amador was roving the infield for Davis, high school games routinely were played at the ballpark, which changed its name from Del Webb Field to Thurman Field in 1984.
But in recent years, the only high school action on the field is an annual all-star game, which Jackson missed due to injury following his senior season at Davis.
"I've seen games here, but I've never played on this field," he said. "I know how big this outfield is, and that's another challenge that I'm looking forward to. Offensively, this field is great for me because there are a lot of triples in this ballpark.
"I want the stolen bases, and I want to hit for a good average. The on-base percentage is more important for me. If I get on base, good things will happen for our team."
Good things for Jackson's team. The home team.