Jackson Linn: Shipped down from Boston

Mark Keplinger, Sports Editor

Jackson Linn
Jackson Linn is batting .200 this season with an OPS of .677. (Courtesy of Parker Waters)

As winter becomes spring in New Orleans, the first few seconds of the song “Your Love” by The Outfield blares from the speakers at Greer Field at Turchin Stadium. Into the batter’s box steps Jackson Linn, Tulane’s super sophomore left fielder, in his short and upright batting stance. Long before he could step into the box wearing Tulane’s famous Slugger Birds, though, he was a highly recruited Northeastern baseball prodigy who had to navigate high school baseball, the MLB draft and COVID-19.

Born in Boston, Linn is the only child of Erin Driver-Linn and Robert Linn. He grew up in the nearby suburb of Cambridge, Massachusetts, the home of Harvard University. Both of his parents grew up in Arkansas and met each other at Harvard Graduate School. 

Linn’s father introduced his son to baseball, and he quickly found out that he loved the sport and was good at it. “I didn’t have siblings to play with all the time. And my dad was always there for me and always wanting to go [outside]. He’d throw me some [batting practice] in the backyard or play catch. He’d always do things to give me a good, fun childhood experience,” Linn said about his father.

In the fall of 2017, Linn started high school at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, a public school that is about a minute’s walk from Harvard Yard. After a year on the freshman team, he made varsity for the CRLS Falcons his sophomore year. 

His high school coach, Robert “Buck” Merrill, described Linn as, “Pretty quiet at first. But then as the year went on, he kind of opened up a little bit more and you can see that right away that he had big time college talent … I remember, he would sit there and randomly come up with a joke every once in a while and I’m like, ‘Whoa, Jackson that’s not like you!’”

Linn played well enough to garner significant attention from various schools across the Northeast. However, Tulane was the only school in the South to recruit him out of high school and eventually got Linn to commit to the Green Wave in the fall of his junior year.

That spring, Linn’s season — and the rest of the world — came to a screeching halt with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Feb. 1, 2020 saw the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Massachusetts, and schools across the state, including CRLS, were shut down on March 16.

With these new restrictions, Linn lost his entire junior year season. “I had this big season in mind. I was ready to go out and prove myself, and then it just all got taken away which was definitely a huge bummer for me. But it gave me an opportunity to understand that no one was getting better around me,” Linn said.

He convinced his parents to buy a weightlifting rack which he put in his bedroom and took batting practice in the batting cage in his backyard. “I’d lift and hit. And that would pretty much be my life for about a year while everything was shut down,” Linn said.

Entering his senior year, Linn was one of the few players with varsity experience. With many of his teammates looking to him for leadership, Merrill praised how Linn stepped into that role. Linn naturally is quiet and leads by example, but he learned to be more vocal as well.

On the diamond, Linn was otherworldly in his senior season. His batting average was .522 with an on-base percentage of .676 with five home runs. Unsurprisingly, MLB scouts took notice. Merrill said, “that every practice and every game would be 15-16 scouts behind the backstop.” 

With that much exposure, there was understandably a lot of tension and pressure — especially on a kid who was just shy of 18. Merrill remembered the little moments that helped relieve some of that pressure:

“I’d be throwing batting practice to him, and I’d throw one in there and he’d crush a 450-foot home run. The next one, I would throw a slider to try to get a swing and miss, and he’d start laughing. I’d be like, ‘Hey, you may be getting scouted but I need to get scouted too,’ and we would laugh about it on the field and break some of that tension. And he’d be like, ‘Alright coach, I got you,’ so then I tried to throw a slider by him again. And then he’d hit it like 400 feet the other way. He would just grin. And I would just laugh.”

One MLB team, the Houston Astros, drafted Linn out of high school in the 20th round. However, the Astros and Linn could not agree on the financial side of it. Linn noted that he intentionally set a high bar because he did not want to miss the opportunity of getting an education and playing college baseball.

Entering fall practices at Tulane, Linn initially struggled with Division I pitching, but he eventually did adjust and played extraordinarily well his freshman campaign. He hit .353 with 31 RBIs and seven home runs with an on-base percentage of .410. 

However, two major events greatly affected Linn. First, Tulane fired their previous head coach Travis Jewett. Then, Linn tore his right UCL, a ligament in his throwing elbow. The injury prevented him from playing the final regular season series of the year as well as the conference tournament. He required Tommy John surgery to repair the ligament.

At the conclusion of the season, Linn and much of Tulane’s 2022 roster entered the transfer portal. While many in Jewett’s old core left, Linn decided to return once he heard former assistant coach Jay Uhlman would become the full time head coach, citing his familiarity with him. 

However, Linn did mention that he looked at Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coastal Conference schools but did not get far into the process before he recommitted to Tulane. Given his freshman year numbers, he could have realistically started at any SEC or ACC school.

Heading into this year, Linn’s game has changed in two notable ways. On the field, Linn’s elbow is still recovering — Tommy John surgery notoriously has a long recovery time. While batting does not pose much risk to the elbow, throwing the ball does. Most likely, the strong arm he possessed his freshman year will not return until next season.

At the plate his freshman year, he was a contact hitter with decent power and a high strikeout rate. This season, he noticeably increased his power but also significantly increased his strikeout rate. Since I interviewed him, Linn has slumped at the plate even being benched for two of the three games against Hawaii.

Jackson Linn
Jackson Linn (24) celebrates a home run against St. John’s. (Courtesy of Parker Waters)

Baseball can be unforgiving, especially for players in a slump. It is also important to note that Linn is still a 19-year-old kid who — despite being wise and mature beyond his years — is still trying to figure out life. The good news is that his teammates and coaches at Tulane all believe in his ability to turn it around. Merrill does as well and texts his former player much needed encouragement.

“All I tell him is, ‘Listen, man, you got the skills you know you do. Just take it one at bat at a time.’ … And it’s hard, because you have this pressure of trying to play really well,” Merrill said. 

After Tulane football finished 2021 with a 2-10, I wroteBad seasons happen to good players, and [Michael] Pratt has shown over his two seasons that he has what it takes to be a great quarterback.” I truly believe the same thing about Linn — bad seasons can happen to anybody, but he is too talented to stay down for long. 

Even within Tulane baseball, there are prominent examples. Jacob LaPrairie was excellent in 2021, terrible in 2022 and returned to his freshman year form this season. Bennett Lee, one of the players who left after Jewett’s dismissal, hit an outstanding .440 in 2021, was average in 2022 and is an above average player this season at Wake Forest. Ethan Groff, another player who left last summer, was solid in 2020, terrible in 2021 and was one of the best players in the nation in 2022 batting over .400. This season, Groff is hitting .352 for the Ole Miss Rebels. 

While frustrating that his rebound might seemingly take some time, Linn will get it together. When he does, he not only has the potential to be better than the players just mentioned, but perhaps one of the best players this program has ever produced.

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