SUMMER HEAT: Jackson Emus fires a pitch this past spring in his sophomore season for the Princeton University baseball team. Emus enjoyed a big summer competing in the high-powered Cape Cod Baseball League. He posted a 0.52 ERA in 13 appearances for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks with 21 strikeouts in 17 innings. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Justin Feil
Jackson Emus is back on track after a successful summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League.
Emus, who will be a junior for the Princeton University baseball team in 2022-23, allowed just one earned run in 13 appearances for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks. His 0.52 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 17 innings of work was a testament to getting back to trusting and executing his variety of pitches.
“This summer, I’ve really wanted to focus on giving the hitter my best stuff,” said Emus, a 6’5, 240-pound native of Clinton, Mass. “I’ll live and die with playing my game. So far, it’s worked out.”
Emus and the Tigers had a roller-coaster spring last year in their return from the COVID-19 pandemic canceling the 2021 Ivy League seasons. Emus went 2-6 with a 4.76 ERA in 12 appearances, 11 as a starter. It was his first season of college baseball due to injury and the pandemic. His ERA was outstanding through the first couple games of the year, shot up, and then was working its way down until his final outing of the year.
“This was kind of the first spring where I went through things a bit, had some struggles, had an up-and-down spring,” said Emus, reflecting on a season which saw Princeton go 7-33 overall and 3-18 Ivy League.
“When our season ended, I had about three weeks at home between when I left school and when I had to report to the Cape. I kind of had to do a bit of soul searching and re-evaluate what went right and what went wrong from this past spring.”
Coming to the Cape League — one of the most prestigious collegiate summer leagues — helped to motivate him. Emus knew he had to be better to be able to contribute in the league.
“I thought early on, coming from a smaller program, playing with a lot of SEC/ACC guys, maybe not having the type of spring that I wanted to, that I had to leave my impression right away with the team as to why I was someone that deserved to be there, someone that they wanted to keep on the roster,” said Emus.
Emus proved himself over the Cape season to a reliable part of what was labeled an elite bullpen for the Harbor Hawks. He did not allow a run through his first nine games and opponents were hitting just .136 against him through that stretch.
“For me, it came down to executing every single pitch better, sequencing hitters better, utilizing my strengths as a pitcher,” said Emus. “My pitches move a lot, and I can attack four quadrants of the zone with four different speeds. I took a step back and tried to think a little better throughout outings and I’m trying to execute each pitch off of each other, I think those were some really big adjustments that I made coming into the summer that have helped me have a lot of success.”
Emus has helped the Hawks enjoy a big bounce-back
season. The Hawks were trying to go worst to first over two seasons. After going 8-28 last year, Emus joined a Hyannis Harbor team that sat in first for part of the season before finishing the regular season 16-6 and third in the West Division. They won their playoff first-round series, 2-1, with a 15-5 Game 3 win on August 6 over the second-place finisher Cotuit Kettleers to earn a best-of-three game series for the West Division title against the first-place finisher Bourne Braves. The Hawks ended up getting swept by the Braves who went on to win the league title.
“It’s special to be a part of the Cape League and the tradition of all the great players that have come through here,” said Emus. “It’s even more special when you’re on a team that’s as successful as ours. Not many people get to say they were Cape champions, so hopefully if things continue to go well for us, I can include myself in that group of people that have won a championship on the Cape.”
Emus never thought much about the numbers that he could put up in the Cape League. He focused more on improving his mindset and approach to pitching to get back on track.
“I try to as much as possible focus on the process more than anything and let the results take care of themselves,” said Emus. “I thought coming out of the spring, I had that three-week reset period that gave me a chance to reset and refocus on being very diligent with my process with how I approach a game and how I work on pitching between outings and things like that. The results have obviously been something to be really happy with, but more so I came into the summer with the expectation I’d be extremely diligent to the process that I want to follow.”
Emus is hoping that he can bring back that process and his success to Princeton this year and see a similar turnaround in the Tigers, who won just seven games last spring. Princeton had a young group last year that is hoping to use its experience for a big jump.
“Obviously last season as a whole was pretty frustrating,” said Emus. “We as a team want to change a lot of things about how we performed on the field. We certainly have the pieces to be a very good team. If you look at our lineup, there are probably five or six guys that hit over .300. If you look at the raw numbers, a lot of guys hit really well this year. There are other guys that had a bit more of an up and down spring that I think we can expect to have a really strong spring this upcoming year. On the pitching side, a lot of guys are going to take another step forward, especially out of our starting rotation. As a team, the biggest improvement we can take care of through our preparation is playing more clean defense and seeing if we can get a big boost from the incoming freshman class too.”
Emus has been locating his pitches better and mixing them as well. It has helped that he has found confidence in all of his pitches so he has a full arsenal to use on hitters.
“I had really worked on improving my slider because over the spring it was a pitch I struggled with so I didn’t really have a consistent slider this spring,” said Emus. “That period between spring ball and going to the Cape, I was able to clean some things up with my delivery, refine my slider and that pitch has been a huge lift for me in addition to the other adjustments I made.”
Emus, who also brought offense to the Tigers as a .318 hitter with 28 hits in 88 at-bats including a homer and 9 RBIs, was completely focused on his pitching this summer in the Cape League. This summer’s success will help him return to Princeton more confident in his pitching.
“I think it’s been extremely important,” said Emus. “It’s one thing to just have success against some of the best competition in the country. It’s hard not have confidence when you experience success in that situation. Kind of more personally, growing up in Massachusetts, when I was younger my family would come to the Cape in the summer. Playing in the Cape has always been something of a dream of mine. Getting to come here and be a part of a league with so much tradition and have some success, it’s really a special experience and one that will help carry me into next year so I can have a good spring.”
Emus attended the Cape Cod League’s baseball camp when he was young. He has enjoyed the experience of being a part of the league now as a college player, even teaming up with longtime friend and now fellow Ivy competitor Jay Driver of Harvard. It’s been a well-rounded summer for Emus.
“The off days are always huge for getting to explore a little bit, getting to relax with some of our teammates,” said Emus. “ On off days, we’ve gone to the beach, played mini golf, we’ve gone to a Red Sox game, all sorts of fun stuff. It’s been really cool getting to meet so many different guys from across the country, from a bunch of different programs, some really talented dudes. It’s really a cool experience and cool environment to be a part of.”
The successful summer also has him more confident that he can continue to pursue his goal of
pitching professionally after Princeton. Emus trains at Cressey Performance in Hudson, Mass., which also is the training grounds for Cleveland Guardians pitcher Aaron Civale.
“He’s a guy who in the big leagues, as the game is trending more towards these high velocity guys, he’s low 90s but he executes every single pitch,” said Emus. “He’s a high level executer on the mound with four or five different pitches, they all move differently and have different speeds. Coming into the spring, I thought that was a strength of mine and I kind of got away from it a little bit. It’s about getting back to that process of executing different pitches to different parts of the zone that move differently at different speeds. That was definitely something I knew I could do a better job of, to throw more strikes and help me miss more bats.”
While Emus excelled as a reliever in the Cape League, he will return as a starter to the Princeton rotation with plans to use the same approach and variety to his advantage going forward.
“I definitely think I have a skill set that would lend itself to success as a starter down the road, but right now especially in the Cape and going forward in my career, whatever I can do that’s going to take me to the next level in the game and whatever role that may be, I’m more than comfortable doing that,” said Emus.
“My goal is to play major league baseball and hopefully play there as long as possible. I obviously need to keep improving year to year, but at least where I’m standing right now I think I have a skill set that would be conducive to success as a starter. If down the road it comes to where I’ll be most successful in the bullpen, that’s more than OK with me. I love to play, I love to pitch. At the end of the day, innings are innings. That was my approach coming into the summer too. Staying diligent to my process and performing on the field are the priorities and the role and whatever the team needs will sort itself out.”