June 30, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tigers' Austin Jackson finally takes a dive, much to the delight of fans, teammates

Detroit — It’s not just the fans who get on Austin Jackson about his unwillingness to dive.

His teammates do it, too — granted, in a more good-natured way.

Jackson, the Tigers center fielder who prefers to stay on his feet, left them in the fourth inning of Monday night’s game – and snared a sinking fly ball off the bat of the A’s Jed Lowrie. It led to a hearty cheer from the sellout crowd.

Then a Bronx cheer once he got to the dugout.

“They were giving me crap,” Jackson said, laughing. “Like, that’s the first time they’ve seen me with grass stains on my clothes.”

It’s funny. But it’s also true.

Jackson, 27, does a lot of things well on defense. His range is pretty good; he covers a lot of ground in spacious Comerica Park, though probably not as much as he used to. His arm is solid, probably even above average for a center fielder.

But he rarely dives. Very rarely.

In fact, he’s so foreign to it, when he took a dive in the fourth inning of Monday’s thrilling 5-4 victory, he didn’t even dive correctly. His knee hit the ground before he even caught the ball.

“Kind of weird,” Jackson said. “I don’t remember seeing too many diving plays where guys hit their knees before they catch it.”

It was a big play in the inning, as Stephen Vogt had reached on a one-out single. Had Jackson not caught the ball, the A’s would’ve been in business, and the result might’ve been different.

Jackson was tracking this shallow fly all the way.

Then, while watching the ball, he heard Torii Hunter screaming, “Dive! Dive! Dive.”

“He got me pumped up a little bit; that felt pretty good,” Jackson said. “But the walk that led to that walk-off grand slam, that was pretty awesome.”

After the game, Jackson was asked about his skittishness about diving.

He acknowledged he doesn’t dive a lot. And he acknowledged he’s heard about it from the fans.

“Awww, I get it all the time in the outfield,” Jackson said. “The ball drops, I get, ‘Come on, just dive for it!’ It’s more probably a couple drunk fans that didn’t see the ball landed 20 feet in front of me.”

Then again, sometimes the ball is catchable, and Jackson won’t dive.

But there are times when it’s worth the risk. Monday was one of those times. And Jackson hopes the result will make him more comfortable leaving his feet on defense.

“It’s just something that I’ve gotta get more comfortable with, and trust on some of those balls, just go ahead and attempt it,” he said. “Hopefully it’s something I can add to my game.”

tpaul@detroitnews.com
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Tigers outfielder Austin Jackson dives to get Jed Lowrie's flyout in the top of the fourth inning Monday at Comerica Park. / Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News