SARASOTA, Fla. -- There was this big swing and the ball just trickled off Bo Jackson's bat, kissing the foul line as it made its way toward third base. The sneaker commercials and the worldwide celebrity weren't going to help him any now. Jackson's immense talents were being reduced to something very simple.
He had to run.
It wasn't exactly supposed to be like this yesterday, in his first pro game in eight months. Jackson was supposed to hit something enormous off some minor-league pitcher and then trot to first base. But this was the eighth inning of a 2-2 game with Class A playoff implications, so Jackson tried mightily to make magic out of mortality.
He sprinted toward first base, beating the throw by a nanosecond and ignoring his fragile left hip in the process. It was the first hit of a rather human afternoon -- he went 2-for-6 in the doubleheader, with two infield singles, two runs batted in and a sacrifice fly -- but it was special because it symbolized progress.
"My first time up, I was nervous as heck, but then things simmered down after that," Jackson said. "It was fun. Reminded me of when I was little and used to steal bicycles. Once you learn how to do something, you never forget it."
Jackson estimated being "50 to 60 percent" recovered from the hip injury that has threatened his football and baseball careers. He said he could play outfield for the major-league White Sox at "75 to 80 percent" healthy.
"I can't wait to get back," said Jackson, 28. "I don't know if I'm ready or not. I'll have to face big-league pitching before I can determine that."
After his first infield hit, Jackson toyed with the rain-braving crowd of 4,459 at Ed Smith Stadium, shaking his hips and pretending to be winded. Jackson, batting third as the designated hitter, was then lifted for a pinch runner because Sarasota manager Rick Patterson didn't want to risk injury and, of course, he had a game to win.
"I thought Bo was out at first on that play," said losing pitcher Johnny Maldonado. "But I'm sure the umpire knew it was Bo Jackson running."
In the first game, which Sarasota won 3-2 in eight innings, Jackson grounded out softly to third, lined two balls hard to rightfield (one for a bases-loaded sacrifice fly) and then got his infield hit.
Before that, Charlotte starter Juan Quero (7-7, 2.94 ERA) had retired Jackson twice on nothing but outside fastballs and changeups. Quero said he was impressed by Jackson's swing -- "the fastest I've ever seen," he said -- but not as impressed as he thought he would be.
It wasn't an insult.
"I had heard so much about him," Quero said, "that I thought he was going to score a touchdown on me or make a three-point basket."
In the second game, a 9-4 Sarasota loss, Jackson grounded out meekly to shortstop in the first inning, chopped an infield single to short in the fourth and flew out to short-center in the sixth.
Jackson will continue his rehabilitation today in Class AA Birmingham, Ala., where he is scheduled to play four games this week.
White Sox general manager Ron Schueler says not too much can be made of Jackson's inability to get a base hit out of the infield yesterday because Jackson is essentially cramming a full spring training into a handful of rehabilitation games.
"A month ago, he was on crutches," Schueler said. "With the progress he's making, he'll help us in September."