It comes as no surprise to see Sally Jackson back on a baseball field, this time coaching a team of Spokane Valley area 4- and 5-year-olds at T-ball.
“I used to teach them to turn a double play,” Jackson laughs. “Now I try to get them to remember where first base is and to not roll in the grass when they’re in the field. That’s harder than it sounds.”
Sally Jackson, instrumental in founding the Spokane Valley Girls Softball Association, has an even longer connection with baseball. She first fell in love with the game as a youngster.
“My grandparents used to take me to see the Spokane Indians play, and I just loved the game,” she said. “And I fell in love with a baseball player and married him.”
A second-baseman with a career batting average of .305, Ron Jackson played eight seasons in the minor leagues, including the Spokane Indians, and coached American Legion baseball in Spokane Valley for 25 years while Sally coached Spokane Valley Youth Baseball and Babe Ruth.
“I was told that I was the first woman to coach a Babe Ruth All-Star team,” she said. “I started coaching Little League baseball back in the early 1960s. Women didn’t do that back in those days, but I loved doing it.”
The couple retired from coaching baseball in recent years as Ron’s 14-year battle with Parkinson’s disease progressed. He died April 29.
“Oh, that just knocked the sun right out of my sky,” Sally said. “I was sitting home crying when I realized that that wasn’t what he would want from me. He would have told me to get off my rear end and get out there and live life.”
She decided to continue the couple’s 60-year history of teaching young Spokane Valley kids to swim – most of those years in the backyard of their home.
And she decided to get back on the field and coach baseball.
“You know, I think one of my all-time favorite places to be in the whole world is the third-base coaches’ box,” she said. “I just love it there.”
In some ways her return to the sideline is a return to her first love. And at the same time, it’s a tribute to her best love.
“Dad had a great mind for the game, and he loved the game so,” she said, speaking about Ron. “He was the leading hitter on just about every team he ever played for, and he understood the game of baseball like no one I’ve ever met. I think if he hadn’t had that two-year break in his playing career to be a soldier in the Korean War he would have reached the major leagues and been a longtime manager there.”
Sally listened and learned as her husband attended tryout camps on his return from Korea, learning to watch players and recognize their strengths and weaknesses from the stands.
“We used to sit and watch games on television, and I would tell him to think out loud, tell me what you’re thinking,” she said. “Baseball looks like such a simple game, but really it isn’t and that’s what I love about it.
A number of former players attended her husband’s memorial service at Avista Stadium and their words clearly meant a great deal to the family.
The same goes for former players who drop by the field to thank Sally for teaching them to both play and love the game.
“I still have men come by and say thank you and tell me that it was the best time of their childhood,” she said. “That always brings tears to my eye. I just love working with kids, and that’s what its always been about for us. We do it for the kids.
“I think if you can do something that inspires a young person and influences their life in a positive way, it’s been a life well-spent.”
And, she insists, she has no plans to leave that third-base coaching box any time soon.
“I used to think that 80 was enough,” she laughs. “But now that I am 80, I’m thinking 90 is looking pretty good. I don’t think I’ll ever stop.”