Dixie State Trailblazers sign 11-year-old to join baseball program

ST. GEORGE — The Dixie State University baseball team has announced the signing of 11-year-old St. George resident Jackson Keith to officially join the program for the 2019 season.

Jackson Keith, 11, signs “letter of intent” to join the DSU Trailblazers’ program for the 2019 season, as head coach Chris Pfatenhauer looks on, St. George, Utah, Oct. 18, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

Jackson, who has cystic fibrosis, signed a “letter of intent” with the Trailblazers during a press conference Thursday afternoon at DSU’s Burns Arena.

At the half-hour event, Jackson was joined by his parents, Nate and Lindsey Keith, Dixie State head baseball coach Chris Pfatenhauer, members of the Trailblazer baseball team, university athletic officials and members of the media.

“We’d like to honor this young man as part of our program … we’d like to make it official today,” Pfatenhauer said as he signed the document and handed it to Jackson and his parents to sign. The coach also gave Jackson a new DSU baseball cap to wear and gave him a baseball that had been signed by the other Trailblazer players.

Jackson, who is listed at 4-foot-8 and throws and bats right-handed, said he was looking forward to helping out the team in any way possible. He said his favorite positions to play are pitcher, first base and shortstop, but acknowledged his main contributions will likely be made from the sidelines.

“I’m not too sure I’m going to contribute because you’re all way better at baseball than me,” Jackson said to his new teammates as those in the audience laughed. “But on the bench, I want to help out as much as I can and do what I can. If you guys need help with anything, I can help.”

The partnership between Jackson and the Trailblazers was spearheaded by Team IMPACT, a national nonprofit organization that matches children who have chronic illnesses with college sports teams. According to the organization, Jackson will attend practices and games, spend time in the dugout and throw out the first pitch, among other official team activities and events.

One of Jackson’s first items of business as a new draftee was fielding practice — not ground balls, but questions from the media. Among the inquiries he handled like a seasoned pro were a brief explanation of cystic fibrosis, the chronic illness he’s battled since infancy, along with his own daily regimen for treating and managing the disease.

Jackson Keith, 11, is flanked by his parents, Dixie State University head coach Chris Pfatenhauer and DSU baseball players during press conference, St. George, Utah, Oct. 18, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

Because cystic fibrosis causes mucus to accumulate in his lungs, Jackson said he has to put on a special vest each day that shakes him so the buildup can be expelled.

“It also affects my digestive system so I have to take pills before I eat everything, too,” he said, explaining that he consumes about 4,000 calories per day.

He’s not a picky eater, either, he said, noting that he likes just about every kind of food.

“My favorite, like, healthy food, would be chicken wrapped in bacon,” he said, as the audience laughed again.

Despite the level of care needed to battle cystic fibrosis, Jackson is otherwise able to live a fairly normal life, his parents said.

Jackson is the oldest of the family’s four boys; all of the younger brothers were also in attendance at the press conference.

Among the other tidbits Jackson shared about himself were the following:

  • His favorite pro baseball team is the Boston Red Sox (who advanced to the World Series later Thursday night).
  • His favorite sports movies include “Rudy,” “The Sandlot” and “Remember the Titans.”
  • He’s not sure what he wants to be for Halloween yet.

Jackson’s mom Lindsey Keith said she appreciates how supportive the DSU baseball players have been to her son, ever since he first visited with the team on his 11th birthday in April.

Jackson Keith, 11-year-old Dixie State University baseball team draftee under a partnership sponsored by Team IMPACT, poses with DSU players after press conference, St. George, Utah, Oct. 18, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

“When Jackson was in the hospital a few months ago, we had guys that I texted out and said, hey, he’s having a rough day, send a funny video,” Lindsey Keith recalled. “Within an hour, I had something to show him and cheer him up. And so, we’re excited for that support to go both ways.”

“Jackson’s always been really good at doing things for other people, and we want that to keep going for all of our boys, including Jackson,” his father, Nate Keith, added. “But I think most importantly, it’s just so cool for him to be a part of a team that’s been so supportive to him.”

DSU associate athletic director Steve Johnson, who welcomed those in attendance to the press conference, thanked the Team IMPACT organization and Vertex Pharmaceuticals for their sponsorship of the program.

The acronym “IMPACT” in Team IMPACT’s name stands for “Inspire, Motivate, and Play Against Challenges Together.” Since 2011, Team IMPACT has matched 1,600 children with chronic illnesses with sports teams of more than 500 colleges and universities in 48 states, helping the youngsters form meaningful, lifelong bonds with the collegiate athletes.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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