Heart doctor at home on diamond

Baseball: Wilde Lake coach David Jackson spends time at the hospital and on the field.

Sports Beat

Howard County schools

April 06, 2005|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

When David Jackson's first game as Wilde Lake's baseball coach ended, he had an unusual exchange with the opposing coach.

The Wildecats had been one-hit and lost to defending county and state Class 3A champion Centennial, 7-2. As the players shook hands, Eagles coach Denis Ahearn greeted Jackson.

But instead of the usual, "Nice game, Coach," Ahearn said to Jackson: "You might not remember me, but you're my cardiologist."

Jackson, whose pager is as important a part of his equipment as a glove is to his players, is the lone cardiologist for Maryland Primary Care Physicians and works at Howard County General Hospital, which is less than two miles from Wilde Lake.

That proximity, the cooperation of other doctor friends who have offered to fill in for him in an emergency and a burning passion for baseball convinced Jackson that he could pull off the improbable double-play combination of cardiologist and coach. He succeeds longtime coach Don Storr, whose resignation created the opportunity.

"I'm a very busy cardiologist," said Jackson, a native New Englander who has worked in Maryland since 1987. "Other doctors can't believe I'm coaching. I give about 50 stress tests a week, do cardiac catheterizations and usually have five to 10 patients in the hospital at a given time. In life you have things you enjoy. I love cardiology. My second choice is baseball. Being able to juggle both is interesting."

It is also time-consuming.

Jackson works a full schedule until heading to Wilde Lake and conducting baseball practice or coaching games from 3:30 to 6:30 Monday through Friday. Then he heads back to the hospital until 10:30. He also conducts Saturday baseball practices.

"I worked 90 hours per week as an internist, so long hours aren't foreign to me," said Jackson, 50. "I didn't plan on coaching high school baseball, but when there was a need, I stepped forward. It's a six-day commitment for two months."

Jackson is no novice to coaching baseball.

He has coached the sport since 1989 in the Howard County Youth Program, but never in high school. In recreation league and travel ball, he coached his eldest son, Rob, who played at Wilde Lake and graduated in 2000.

On HCYP teams, he also coached his youngest son, Mark, now a sophomore at Wilde Lake and competing for the second base job.

His assistant coach, Tom Showe, who was head coach at Centennial for four years in the mid-1980s, and whose son, Michael, is a sophomore on Wilde Lake's team, can't always make the practices and games on time because of his job as a printer. But his expertise fits well with Jackson's.

"I usually work with the pitchers and infielders, and he's into hitting and bunting," Showe said.

Jackson brings his own pitching machine to practices.

"The combination of the two of us is working well, and I enjoy working with him," Showe said. "He has a little different philosophy, because he's into running and stretching and likes to rotate everyone into the game. And you can tell he's a cardiologist because he runs a tight ship. But he puts in the time and is trying to fit in with the kids. The team is having a dinner together once a week. And he runs with the kids when they run. I watch."

The players are making the adjustment from Storr to Jackson.

"Coach Jackson is more serious [than Storr], we watch more videos and we hit off the pitching machine a lot more," said Wildecats senior outfielder and co-captain Danny Decker. "I thought things would be more crazy than last year, but he's always on time and practices are organized. He has an agenda for every day, and there's not much down time."

Jackson's medical colleagues aren't surprised that he's coaching the Wilde Lake baseball team.

"I've worked with Dave for 20 years and he's always been involved with kids," said Dr. Bill Jackson, an internist with Maryland Primary Care Physicians. "He has as much energy as three normal people, and enjoys the contact with kids so much that it enhances his quality of life and makes him happier in his job. He always has a certified cardiologist available to fill in for him, so his coaching never inhibits patient care. He's able to have a much more normal life than cardiologists did years ago."

Jackson grew up as a Red Sox fan in Massachusetts. After his family moved to southern Connecticut when he was 12, he gradually became a Yankees fan, especially when they were doing well from 1976 through 1980 during his stint at Harvard Medical School.

"I was there the day Reggie Jackson hit his three home runs in a World Series game," Jackson said. "Since moving to Baltimore, although it is sometimes hard, I've become an Orioles fan."

Jackson the coach said he is fascinated by the intellectual challenge of baseball.

"It's not an easy game to grasp. There are so many facets to it," he said. "It's harder to master from a mental level than other sports."

For now, he is still trying to discover what each Wilde Lake player can and cannot do, and where to play each one.

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