MERIDIAN Metal cracks on the fastball, emitting a high-pitched ting all too familiar to Paul Cluff. The former All-American watches anxiously from the grandstands, the sound still ringing from the bat of a younger Cluff.
Baseball, you see, is in their blood.
Rocky Mountain High shortstop Jackson Cluff grew up idolizing his father, who excelled on the diamond and in the classroom. Before his one-year stint with the Boise Hawks in 1989, Paul set the fourth-highest single-season batting average in BYU history, and was named an athletic and academic All-American in 1988-89.
"My dad taught me everything I know," Jackson said. "I'm not trying to take anything away from the other coaches, but he's always stayed on me. It hasn't ever been to where he's forced it upon me. He just gave me an opportunity and that turned into my love for the game. He's always helped me achieve whatever I've wanted to do.''
"We have a great relationship he's probably my best friend."
Following his father's footsteps, Jackson committed to play for BYU after his junior season. He maintains a 4.0 GPA with ambitions of pursuing a career as an orthopedic surgeon.
"I try," he quips modestly about his coursework.
Paul said watching his son play baseball is "a great blessing.
"I feel pretty fortunate that my son loves the game that I love, too. It's a really neat experience to not only watch your kid play something he enjoys, but to see him play at a high level," Paul said. "He's diligent at coming home from school, getting his homework done and applying himself so he can exceed in the classroom. It's positioned him to not only be successful in college, but in his profession. I'm most proud of his accomplishments off the field."
Jackson platoons in baseball and sacrifices other sports to refine his abilities. He balances studies with travel in the winter months to play year-round, journeying to Arizona in October and utilizing indoor facilities in Utah from November to January.
Now in his senior season, Jackson started his high school career at second base as a sophomore for the Grizzlies, who are tied atop the 5A SIC standings with Capital. He moved to shortstop late last season, which he prefers because, "you get to be the voice out there."
"He's one of the top defenders I've ever coached," Rocky Mountain coach Jake Taylor said. "I've been a head coach 18-19 years, he's just an all-around package. His motivation, his intrinsic drive to get better - it's almost like he literally gets better everyday he comes to practice."
However, as Jackson's time at Rocky Mountain approaches its culmination, his infectious, genuine personality will be remembered more fondly than his athletic or academic milestones. Indicative of his personality, Jackson is a member of a Facebook group entitled, "Stop the Hate!" which encourages student unity to prevent bullying.
"That's coming from a whole life in sports, being the smaller guy. You're already looked at as a weaker link," said Jackson, who said he has been harassed for his 5-foot-10 stature.
He explained one act of courage could potentially end countless acts of damaging torment.
"A couple of weeks ago, there were people trying to take pictures of a kid in a hallway. Obviously they're making fun because they're laughing at him,'' Jackson said. "I went up and told them to stop. That's all it really takes. I think you'd be surprised by how much people feel uncomfortable when someone stands up to them. I think it stops right there."
For Taylor, who said educating and preparing young men for their future endeavors is his main purpose in his profession, watching Jackson's interaction within the community is more gratifying than any home run or stolen base.
"Jackson is truly a tremendous individual." Taylor said. "We want to compete and win every game, but that being said, why I'm in my second decade as a head coach it's being around kids like Jack.
"The energy he brings and what he stands for, it's a pleasure to be around him for three hours a day. He's definitely a kid that will be spoken highly of forever in our minds as coaches, players and educators here at Rocky Mountain."
But for Jackson and the Grizzlies, there is more work to be done. With six regular season games remaining, he has an opportunity to embroider an outright district championship and perhaps a state championship to his glowing legacy.
"It would be a great accomplishment because I know how much work we've put in," Jackson said of state. "How much our coaches, our parents all the sacrifice that's our goal. It would mean a lot."
Capital-Rocky Mountain begin key series today
Eagles surprising loss against Borah on Monday uncluttered a three-team logjam in the 5A Southern Idaho Conference standings and unintentionally upgraded the Capital-Rocky Mountain series to a battle for sole possession of first place. The Eagles and Grizzlies are tied at 10-2 in conference play with games scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at Capital, and 6 p.m. Friday at Rocky Mountain.
The series is highlighted by contrasting styles. The Eagles, who have won 11-of-12 games, including six straight, have surrendered 36 runs in 14 games (2.6 rpg) the lowest mark in conference. Rocky Mountain, winner of 7-of-8, showcases the highest run average (7.1 rpg) in the SIC with 113 runs scored in 16 outings.
Trevor Phibbs: 377-6424, Twitter: @IDS_Phibbs