Detroit right-hander Edwin Jackson(notes) seemed to break through a season ago for the Tampa Bay Rays, transforming from a thrower to a pitcher, becoming what the Dodgers saw in him when they drafted him out of a Georgia high school in the sixth round in 2001.
Despite being part of the Rays' World Series club, Jackson was traded in the off-season for outfield prospect Matt Joyce(notes). Jackson's effort so far — he's in the AL's top 10 in ERA, victories, WHIP and strikeout-to-walk ratio — is a top reason that his new team leads the AL Central.
During a recent visit to Chicago, the Answer Man chatted up Jackson, who has come a long way (literally — he was born in West Germany) in becoming one of the league's best pitchers.
David Brown: What do you remember about Germany?
Edwin Jackson: The rich food. The snow. And a lot of castles.
DB: What's Little League like over there?
EJ: I didn't really play baseball in Europe.
DB: So, no fastpitch against the Berlin Wall?
EJ: Nah [laughs]. I don't even remember seeing it, to tell you the truth. All together, we were there about three years. I was born there, left and then came back over there. And when I left I was about 8. So, I don't really speak any German, other than a word here or there. I was just starting to learn when I left in the second grade.
EJ: Probably not [laughs]. I don't have an interest in going back to Germany.
DB: What did your dad do?
EJ: He was a cook, and a manager.
DB: You inherit his cooking skills at all?
EJ: Nah [laughs]. I can cook a little bit, but not like him. He still puts on a show, cooks all the time. That's what he likes to do.
DB: Where else have you lived around the world?
EJ: No other countries. Louisiana, Alabama, Germany and then Georgia.
DB: Were you a "military brat" or were you a well-behaved little boy?
EJ: I was cool. I didn't get into too much trouble. Nothing more than the average kid.
DB: Why do we call you "Edwin" and not "Ed" or "Eddie"?
EJ: I'm all of 'em. I have a thousand nicknames. I'm sure I've got them all. Anything with "Ed" in them.
DB: Do you think you're the best Edwin in major league history? Among those who have gone by Edwin, I mean?
EJ: I don't know; I don't know how many there are. I was named after Duke Snider. That's who I've been told I've been named after — somewhat, kinda sorta. So, looking at it like that, he's got a long, extensive career resume [laughs].
DB: But everybody knows him as "Duke" (right, wearing No. 4). You're Edwin.
EJ: How many Edwins are out there, man?
EJ: I know those two. Encarnacion and Duke Snider.
DB: Edwin Nunez back in the day. Hurtado. Meese. There's a bunch of guys with Edwin for a middle name. Cal Ripken's middle name is Edwin.
EJ: Oh, OK. I didn't know that. That's a pretty good Edwin, too.
DB: So, I assume your dad was a big baseball fan because you're named after Duke Snider?
EJ: It was my granddad who was the fan. I have the same name as my father.
DB: Alabama-Birmingham offered you a baseball scholarship. Was the Army baseball team after you, recruiting you, based on your father's career?
EJ: Mmm, I'm not sure. Maybe the Army was, at one point in time, but if it was, it was only the normal high-school recruiting. Nothing special for baseball.
DB: What can we do to get more black youths playing baseball?
EJ: Heh, it's tough. I don't know, man. I guess you just have to stay in the communities. Football and basketball are normally the primary sports in black communities. My dad played basketball and baseball, my mom played softball. How I got to baseball? I don't know. Growing up, I played all of 'em.
DB: So it's an accident you're a baseball player?
EJ: No, it was meant to be, I guess.
DB: Is it important for you to someday join the Black Aces, the association of African American pitchers — with Fergie Jenkins and Jim ["Mudcat"] Grant — who've won 20? Dontrelle [Willis] is in that club.
EJ: Sure. Anybody who pitches wants to win 20 games, I'm sure. As a starting pitcher, that's a big accomplishment. That's something every starting pitcher wants to do.
DB: You were minor league teammates with guys like Chad Billingsley(notes), Jonathon Broxton, James Loney(notes). To see how they're all coming together now and how well the Dodgers are playing, what do you think?
EJ: Of course you watch those guys. Those are the dudes you came up with; that's where everything started. Every time you get a chance to watch those guys play, it's fun.
DB: The first game of your major league career, it's your 20th birthday, you're barely two years out of high school, and you face Randy Johnson(notes) in Arizona. Were you scared out of your mind, or what?
EJ: It happened so quick, the first start, I didn't really have time to get nervous. It was all in a flash. I don't think I really got nervous 'til my third start. I had time to get nervous for that one.
DB: Was that the best birthday ever?
EJ: So far. It's certainly the most memorable one. I'll never forget it.DB: Who were some of the coolest L.A. celebs you hung out with five years ago?
EJ: Baseball players [laughs]. I've been around some, here and there, but not really too many. The famous people I mostly hung around with were baseball players.
DB: Are you keeping an eye on the Rays?
EJ: I keep in touch. I talk to them, still, several guys on the team.
DB: The Rays seem to be missing something this year. It's you, isn't it?
EJ: I don't know. They're missing me, but I don't know if I'm the secret to nothin'. I mean, it's a team game. You need nine people to win a game, so...
DB: Do you have your AL championship ring?
EJ: Not yet.
DB: Should there be RINGS for just getting to the World Series? Why not wait 'til you actually win it?
EJ: Nah, nah. You take rings when you can get 'em. To even make it is an accomplishment, you know? There's 28 other teams out there just watchin'. There's two teams left playing. Of course, the main objective is to win the big one.
DB: Has [Curtis] Granderson taken you shopping for gym shoes at Walmart yet? He's a big fan of those suckers.
EJ: (Giving me a strange look). Nah, I didn't know that [laughs]. We'll have to go.
DB: Do you guys all take turns buying cartons of smokes for Leyland?
EJ: I don't really pay attention to the cigarettes.
DB: He's a smokin' machine!
EJ: If you say so. I don't really pay attention. I just do my business.
DB: They're finally knocking down the rest of Tiger Stadium. You guys could stop it by linking arms and making a human chain. Any interest in saving the historic place?
EJ: Probably not. It's true that it's historic, but we're in a new field. We're not playing there. It's not our home. Our home is where we're at now, Comerica Park.
DB: Other than in the zoo, there are no tigers in Michigan. Why has Detroit been misleading people all these years?
EJ: Oh, man, come on. It's just the name of a team. I mean, what's a "Dodger"? You're in L.A., what's a Dodger? You know?
DB: At least they used to be in Brooklyn, where there used to be trolleys to dodge.
EJ: (Not convinced).
EJ: He's a different pitcher than I was. When I first came up, I really didn't know anything about pitching. He has an idea about pitching. I was pretty much a thrower. There are differences between us.
EJ: You've got to stay grounded. It's always good to get comments like that, but you can't take it to the head.
DB: Domino's or Little Caesars?
DB: Trick question. The answer should be "neither."
EJ: Why's that?
DB: Call a real pizzeria and order a real pizza, man.
EJ: Oh, man [laughs]. Tough critic.
DB: Reportedly, you're athletic. Can you dunk a basketball?
EJ: Oh, yeah.
DB: What about over Randy Johnson?
EJ: I don't know about that, man [laughs]. He's pretty tall.
DB: You'd dish the rock?
EJ: I'd probably just pull up and try to shoot it.
DB: Can you run a pass pattern and catch a touchdown for the Lions?
EJ: I can catch a football. I'm pretty sure I could catch an NFL pass.
DB: Can you shoot a hockey puck on net?
EJ: I'd probably fall before I get a chance to shoot [laughs].
DB: They're going to ask you soon, probably, to shoot the first puck at the Stanley Cup Finals, if you keep winning like this. You're becoming a big celebrity in Detroit. I guess it's "drop the first puck," but whatever.
EJ: I can't stand on no skates, man. I wouldn't even have a chance to shoot. I'd fall and be on the bloopers or something.
DB: What's the last song you downloaded on your iPod?
EJ: Oh... I have to cheat. (EJ checks his MP3 player). It's a song by Young Jeezy. It's called... what is it called? "Biggest Movie Ever." (NSFW!)
DB: You reportedly like all kinds of music. Motown?
EJ: I have Motown.
EJ: I don't have Metallica, but if somebody played it, I would listen to it.
DB: Barry White?
EJ: I have some Barry White. "Can't get enough"...
DB: Kenny Chesney?
EJ: I don't have any Kenny Chesney.
DB: Li'l Wayne?
EJ: I have that.
DB: Backstreet Boys?
EJ: I don't have that.
DB: But would you?
EJ: I mean, if somebody played it. If I'm in somebody's car and they're playing their music, I'm not going to tell them to change their music.
DB: That's polite, yet the least complimentary thing I've ever heard. ... Please briefly describe these colorful former teammates:
EJ: A gamer.
EJ: Plays hard.
EJ: Veteran player.
EJ: Skillful batter.
EJ: Throws hard.
EJ: Quiet guy.
EJ: Funny guy [laughs].
DB: Do you twitter? What's a typical tweet from Edwin Jackson look like?
EJ: I don't. I text message, but if I wanted the whole world to see my texts, then I would tweet [laughs].
DB: What do you know about the big black fist of Joe Louis in Downtown Detroit? Is it too subtle?
EJ: The black fist! That's a powerful momument. It's symbolic. I didn't know it was of Joe Louis, though I know who Joe Louis was, of course. That's one powerful statue. Joe Louis, he was The Man of his era.
DB: You might have a statue someday.
EJ: I don't need a statue, man [laughs]. Let's just win.
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