It seems like an eternity since Jackson Pace made a verbal commitment to play baseball for the University of Southern California (USC). On Nov. 10, the San Benito High senior made things official by signing his national letter of intent in front of family and friends on campus.
The 6-foot-5, 210-pound right-hander committed the summer before his sophomore year not long after USC made an offer.
“It was obviously a long time coming, but everything was verbal until the signing,” he said. “Now it’s pretty set in stone. It was a very big moment in my life and I’m very happy how it happened.”
Both Jackson and especially his dad, Carlton, got pretty emotional when it was their turn to make comments. Jackson said while he was stunned at first to see his dad in tears—“I don’t remember the last time seeing him like that,” Jackson said—upon reflection, the gravity of the moment called for visible emotion.
“It reassured me how proud my dad was of me and the importance of the moment,” Jackson said. “I wouldn’t be anywhere close—absolutely nowhere close—to reaching this goal without him. My mom (Julia) also deserves a lot of credit for supporting me in this process. She definitely held it together (at the signing) for the rest of us, thankfully. I’m glad one of us was able to do it.”
Pace also credited his travel ball coach Erik Wagle of Dub Baseball out of Morgan Hill. Wagle is well connected to the college and pro game and had conversations with the USC coach to come out and watch Pace play at an Under Armour-sponsored tournament in Los Angeles the summer before Pace’s sophomore year.
“USC came out to watch me while I was in LA and they offered not long after that,” Pace said. “Erik is one of those people I wouldn’t have been able to do this without. He’s pretty much family, honestly. We rely on him for all baseball guidance and he definitely knows what he’s doing. He’s been very great in this process and he tells me how it is, which is something I look for in school, friends, colleagues and mentors, too.”
As he was about to sign his letter of intent, Pace had a moment of stressful levity, if there ever was such a thing. There are two lines on the paper and Pace said he didn’t know which one to sign initially (it’s not obvious).
“Luckily, what I signed was good. That’s what I was thinking during the signing,” he said with a slight chuckle. “Before that I was extremely happy to make this more formal and official and take another step in the right direction for my dreams and where I want to go in life.”
According to prepbaseballreport.com, Pace has a velocity average of 88.8 mph on his fastball with a max of 91, with the projection that his velocity will “jump more” in the coming years. The site’s scouting report also said Pace has the ability to have the ball “cut, run, ride and sink as he needs showing he can command both sides of the plate and pitch through the zone.”
Pace knows what it’s going to take to excel in college and hopefully get drafted in the future.
“I have to work harder than 99% of the other people who want the same dream as me, and I’m willing to do it,” he said.
Pace played his last travel ball tournament in late June/early July in Florida, and as he walked off the field for the final time, he couldn’t help but get emotional.
“It’s been such a big part of my life for so long and I’ve had so many great memories,” he said. “Walking out of the complex, I shed a little tear.”
Pace is currently going through his throwing program in preparation for his final high school season as practice starts in February. His reputation, which is already of high repute, would be further burnished if he can lead the Hollister Haybalers to their first Central Coast Section championship in program history.
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]@weeklys.com and (831) 886-0471, ext. 3958.