Mark Edwin Jackson's ETA "Soon"

It seemed too good to be true -- and as it turned out, it was. Edwin Jackson was called up to Los Angeles off the Jacksonville roster in early September, 2003, and drew his first start against Arizona -- on his 20th birthday. Incredibly, he out-pitched Randy Johnson, allowing four hits and a single run in a 4-1 Dodgers win.

Filling in for the injured Hideo Nomo, Jackson handled the role as if he intended to make a career of it. He scattered four hits over six innings, didn't walk a batter and struck out four, leaving him only 3,833 strikeouts and five Cy Young Awards behind Johnson, who turned 40 the next day.

Jackson was the third-youngest pitcher to start a game for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the youngest in 40 years. So young that he could not legally enjoy that bottle of Dom Perignon that awaited him at his locker although he did get doused with beer by his teammates after the game.

The Los Angeles fans and the media did everything but pick the kid up on its shoulders and parade him around the park, and of course, we all bought into it.

However, the Dodgers were used to this sort of thing. Young pitcher, great performance, unlimited future -- it had been done before. Think Karl Spooner, think Johnny Podres, Don Drysdale, think Don Sutton, think Bobby Welch, think Fernando Valenzuela, think Ramon Martinez ... well, the list goes on and on.

Jackson became the youngest Dodgers pitcher to start a game since Dick Calmus in 1963 at the age of 19 years, seven months. Joe Moeller has the Los Angeles Dodgers record at 19 years, two months in 1962. Calmus started against Milwaukee ace Warren Spahn Aug. 23 and, by the by, the Dodgers lost, 6-1.

In the shadow of the HOLLYWOOD sign, Jackson played the part to perfection, right out of MGM. He lost a 2-0 decision to Arizona, allowing five hits in seven inning, and won his third, and final, start of the season 5-0 against the Giants during which he battled his control -- walking eight -- but allowed two hits over six innings and fanned seven.

Dodger management boldly predicted he was ready for the assignment, confident about his pitches and poise. He delivered just as advertised, with a fastball of 93-98 mph to get ahead of most counts and an occasional sharp breaking ball.

"The reward was worth the risk," general manager Dan Evans told Ken Gurnick of "There was never a doubt."

In the distance, it seemed one could hear people scurrying around in the basement of the Hall of Fame, making preparations.

What most of us missed, is the fact he had control problems in his later starts. The glossy 2.45 earned run average made it difficult to notice that he had walked 11 in 22 innings and no one mentioned that he had only a skimpy 253 innings under his belt. No one -- no one -- is born to pitch in the major leagues.

He started the season at Las Vegas in 2004 but got the call for a spot start on June 2 and beat Milwaukee the same night in Dodger Stadium, allowing one run on a leadoff homer, then working five scoreless innings. Back he came again on July 3 but th time he left in the second inning at Anaheim with a mild sprain of his right elbow.

But he beat Houston five days later, allowing five hits and two runs in five innings. Then the next day he was placed on the disabled list, He made four rehab starts at Las Vegas but the touch was gone and he finished with a 7.30 ERA over 24.2 major league innings and 6-4, 5.86 at AAA.

He was fighting shoulder problems and had trouble pitching in Las Vegas earlier in the 2005 season, in a park that even veteran pitchers have trouble. The hot south wind drains your energy, blows out most every night and sucks the moisture out of the infield making it rock-hard.

But that excuse didn't wash with 51s Manager Jerry Royster.

"I don't want to hear about the park," says Jerry. "It's that fast ball down the middle that bothers me."

So when his record reached 2-3, 6.47 over eight starts the Dodgers decided it was time for him to slide down the system just a little and go to work for Jacksonville.

Then, slowly it all started to work for him. After nine starts he is 5-4, 3.83 and during his latest outing, he worked a personal-best eight innings and allowed two hits and no runs.

He is 5-4, 3.83 with Jacksonville, but take away his first game -- seven runs in five innings -- and his ERA drops to 2.75.

What has happened?

Well, he is healthy now. The 97-mph heater is working and he seems to be spotting it well. He also has a slider that batters term "filthy". His changeup seems to come and go, as is the case with most young pitchers.

But while no one will admit it, including Jackson himself, he was a victim of too much, too fast. He was trying to learn a most difficult craft at a level he wasn't ready for.

He was primarily an outfielder in high school when he was drafted No. 6 in 2001 but the scouts noted his remarkable arm strength.

Originally they considered using him as a designated hitter/pitcher and let his abundant talents make the decision, but that was soon abandoned when he began to develop quickly on the mound.

He went 2-1, 2.45 in the Gulf Coast in his first season, then after a strong showing in extended spring was vaulted to Columbus (South Atlantic) where he posted a 5-2, 1.98 record, holding the opposition to a .206 batting average. He was 7-7, 3.70 with 153 strikeoouts in 148 innings at Jacksonville when he was called to The Show for the first time and pitched himself into the Dodger history book.

He is the poster boy for the movement against promoting a youngster up the ladder too quickly. There have been some grumblings about how the Dodgers should have traded him when he was in great demand.

But the telling statistic of this entire story is this:

September 9, 1983.

That's the kid's birthday. He won't be 22 until September. What would you think he was worth if he was a college junior just becoming eligible for the amateur draft? Steve Boros would use the traditional, "Hello,partner" on the club that selected him.

Wise old heads have cautioned that baseball is a marathon, not a sprint.

So we all must remember this, "The key to baseball is patience. You get the chicken by not smashing the egg."