Raised in the dugout, much of Jackson Coutts’s life has had something to do with baseball.
Jackson, a 22-year-old from Maine with close family ties to Shawville, went through his childhood as a phenomenal athlete in football, basketball, and baseball. But it happened to be the case that baseball was the sport closest to his family’s way of life, and that has now paid off, as he was signed by the Washington Nationals of the MLB on June 15.
It is Jackson’s most recent big achievement on a long road that was forged by the love of the game that his parents instilled in him.
Lynn and Mike Coutts met when Lynn was playing softball at the University of Maine in the mid-80s, after Mike had already played baseball there several years prior.
Lynn is Jackson’s connection to Shawville, as she was raised there. Jackson’s grandmother Darleen-Murray Murphy lives in Shawville, while his grandfather Jerry Hearty lives in Campbell’s Bay.
After various coaching and training gigs, Lynn got offered the women’s softball coaching job at her alma mater. Soon after, she became associate athletic director, and Mike took over the coaching job.
While Lynn played a lot of ball growing up in Shawville, Jackson learned the ropes while living in Maine. While in high school, Jackson was named Mr. Maine Baseball in 2017, after leading his Orono High School team to a state championship title that year.
“They [Lynn and Mike] were both coaches at one point or another,” Jackson pointed out, “and they’ve always talked to me as coaches and not so much as parents and I think that’s helped a lot in my development as a player.”
Having parents who understand the ins and outs of the game has been a key part of Jackson navigating the challenging stretches of his athletic progression.
One of those stretches was during Jackson’s sophomore year at the University of Rhode Island.
“I had a decent freshman year, and my summer after freshman year was pretty good,” Jackson explained. “But I didn’t really have any goals, I just kind of went through the motions. I didn’t really have any real structure with how I went about anything, and then it just kind of caught up to me and it wasn’t great.”
Jackson attributes a lot of the growing pains to neglecting areas off the field, specifically with nutrition and working out.
“I definitely changed how I went about my business in the sports world,” said the newly-signed pro. “I didn’t want to fail as bad as I did, in the long run it helped, but it was tough going through that. But it helped my mental game, and it helped a lot with my preparation when it comes to baseball and in terms of eating and lifting and just staying healthy and the best you can be.”
Jackson felt that his biggest hurdle within that challenge was needing to identify the issue, and not so much the work itself.
“We had good resources at Rhode Island which helped too,” Jackson said. “But like I said, the hardest part was identifying it.”
The attention to detail paid off big time as Jackson entered his junior year, the most recent season.
In the 13-game season, shortened due to COVID-19, the 6’3, 230-pound outfielder and first baseman amassed four home runs, 12 runs batted in and a .451 batting average, which was 14th best in NCAA Division 1 ball.
This year’s MLB draft was shortened from 40 rounds to five, so Jackson’s window of opportunity narrowed, but several teams were still in contact with him leading up to the free-agent deadline on June 14. Ultimately the Nationals were the team to call Jackson that morning to confirm that they were offering him a $20,000 non-drafted free-agent contract.
“They called me, offered me, and I took it,” Jackson said. “It was pretty cool. It’s been a dream to play professional since I can remember. And I’m forever thankful to the Nationals for providing the opportunity.”
For Jackson’s grandmother, Darleen Murray-Murphy, it’s always just been a matter of time until he would get his shot.
“He has a good bat, he has good eyes for the ball,” Murray-Murphy said of her grandson proudly. “He has a passion for it, he’s the nicest boy you’d ever want to meet. He deserves what he gets.”
Murray-Murphy has been travelling to Jackson’s sports games throughout his life, and when the time came for him to fully commit to one sport after excelling in many throughout high school, she was glad to see him commit to the sport that he now competes in.
“Under my breath, I was hoping he’d choose baseball,” Murray-Murphy admitted.
Jackson’s grandparents’ pride and encouragement has always been hugely felt by the heavy hitter.
“My grandparents are always my biggest fans,” Jackson said. “Having them around whenever they could be was always a pleasure. They’d pretty much do anything they could to come down and watch. Their support is second to none.”
Now with the professional league awaiting him, Jackson still hopes to finish his kinesiology degree at Rhode Island, and he is grateful that the Nationals offer to pay for the remainder of an athlete’s education.
“I want to finish school, that’s really important to me. But I gotta go where they tell me to go,” Jackson said. “Wherever they need me, I’m going.”
In the fall, Jackson will be reporting to Florida for fall instructional league. In the meantime, his mother Lynn has just taken a new job as deputy athletic director at the University of Denver, so the family has just moved there from Maine.
It is the next chapter in the Coutts family journey that spans across two countries.
Jackson is fond of his experiences while in Canada, citing his memorable times at the Shawville Fair and visiting his many relatives in the area during the Christmas season.
“I love Shawville,” Jackson said cheerfully. “It’s a nice small town. I love it, it’s great.”
He’ll continue to try and visit his family up north whenever he can, but with the next chapter in Jackson’s life looking like the biggest so far; Jackson has his eyes firmly set on making the Nationals roster, and playing under the big spotlight.
“I want to keep moving up in the organization,” Jackson said confidently. “Just try to go up as fast as I can, I know they [Nationals] have a great player development program and they really take care of their players. Just keep grinding and getting to the show basically.”
Unsurprisingly, Murray-Murphy’s confidence in her grandson is sky-high, and she knows Jackson will do everything he can do to achieve his goals.
“Oh yes, my dream is to see him play in the big game,” Murray-Murphy said unwaveringly.
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