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Grant Jackson certainly is synonymous with Fostoria as the only native of the city to play baseball in the major leagues.
He’s become synonymous with Pittsburgh, too, where he experienced his greatest triumph as a pitcher and has lived for the last 40-plus years.
“My kids like it and I like it, so we’ve stayed,” he said in a telephone interview this week.
And with another baseball season having begun, fans will again occasionally see Jackson at PNC Park watching the Pirates, for whom he pitched from 1977-81 and during part of the 1982 season before wrapping up his 18-year career.
Though he mostly heads to the local VFW hall or stays home to watch the Pirates on TV, he typically makes his way to a few home games in a season. Going back to his playing days, he’s always made it a point to be friendly with fans, but sometimes it becomes too much when he’s simply trying to enjoy a day at the ballpark.
“If they become autograph sessions, I’ve got to go to the press box,” he said.
At the same time, such things away from the park are profitable for the 76-year-old in the form of card shows and speaking engagements. They’re nice supplements to the pension he garners as a former player, and he’s in a good location for such opportunities.
“There’s money being in the city of champions,” he said, referring to titles won by the Pirates in baseball (five), the Steelers in football (six) and the Penguins in hockey (five).
Jackson acknowledged that he enjoys some popularity in the Steel City.
“I’m loved in Fostoria, too, but love doesn’t pay the bills,” he said with a laugh.
Jackson grew up as a farmboy in the Fostoria area and starred in football, basketball, and track and field at Fostoria High School, from which he graduated in 1960. FHS did not have a baseball program at the time, but the left-handed Jackson became well-known for his pitching feats in American Legion ball.
Among those he impressed was Tony Lucadello, a Philadelphia Phillies scout who lived in Fostoria. Jackson signed with Philadelphia in 1961. Lucadello went on to sign many other stars, including future Hall of Famers Ferguson Jenkins and Mike Schmidt.
Like Jenkins, Jackson debuted with the Phillies in 1965. (Jenkins would be traded to the Chicago Cubs in the offseason.)
Jackson began his career as a starting pitcher, and he made the National League All-Star team in 1969 before finishing the season with a 14-18 record and a 3.34 earned run average.
He eventually became an effective relief man who enjoyed a 1976 season in which he went 7-1 with four saves and a 2.54 ERA while pitching in a combined 34 games for the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees.
Jackson pitched in the World Series for the Orioles in 1971 and the Yankees in 1976 as those teams fell to the Pirates and Cincinnati Reds, respectively.
In 1979, he was in his third year with the Pirates as they overcame a rough start to the season and made their way to the World Series to again face Baltimore.
Those Pirates became famous for more than their baseball prowess, as they rallied to the Sister Sledge song “We are Family” and future Hall of Famer Willie Stargell handed out “Stargell Stars” for players to wear on their caps in recognition of standout performances.
“Pops was the leader,” Jackson said, using the team’s nickname for the 39-year-old standout, who was named Most Valuable Player for both the season and the World Series in 1979. “If you had any problem between the lines, he would help you.”
The Pirates fell behind the Orioles 3-1 in the 1979 World Series before bouncing back to force a Game 7 in Baltimore. Jackson recorded a strikeout and two walks in 2.2 innings and ended up as the winning pitcher, as Stargell’s two-run homer in the sixth inning gave Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead on their way to a 4-1 triumph.
Jackson called that championship the top moment of his career.
“I’ve been asked that 1,000 times,” Jackson said of what it was like to play on that ’79 Pirates squad. “And I always say the same thing: It was tremendous.”
Jackson finished his career with an 86-75 record with 79 saves and a 3.46 ERA after pitching in 692 games. In addition to the Phillies, Orioles and Yankees, Jackson spent time with the Montreal Expos and Kansas City Royals.
He later had stints as the pitching coach for the Pirates and Reds.
Though a professional baseball season is a grind that includes travel, games and more hours at various ballparks than the average fan would imagine, Jackson said his enjoyment was such that “I never had a job.”
The pace is more easygoing for him now.
“I cut the grass, pick up leaves, shovel the driveway — just take it easy,” he said.