Favorite athlete: Francisco Lindor
Favorite teams: Phillies, Eagles, Flyers, Sixers
Favorite memory competing in sports: Winning the SOL American Conference championship in 2019
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: See a teammate not be able to hold it in and go pee in his pants on the field
Music on playlist: Country
Future plans: College baseball at the University of North Carolina
Words to live by: “Good players work out, great players outwork.”
One goal before turning 30: Play baseball professionally
One thing people don’t know about me: I am going to the same college as my brother
By Mary Jane Souder
Joe Jaconski is a special talent on the baseball diamond.
That much was obvious at first glance when Plymouth Whitemarsh coach Chris Manero saw the then sophomore transfer in action at workouts in the winter of 2019.
“That’s when I knew he was going to be a different kind of player,” the Colonials’ coach said of the University of North Carolina recruit. “I could almost say the first time I saw the ball come off his bat – you could just tell.”
What Manero didn’t know was that he’d inherited a pretty special person as well, a team-first person who cared as much if not more about his team’s success than his own.
“It’s so hard for kids who are very good at something to be more caring of others, and as good as he is at baseball and as tremendous of a talent that he is, he wants to win,” Manero said. “He wants his team to win, and that’s just the kind of person he is. He is just genuinely a good kid.
“I really didn’t know him before he came here, but he’s become a part of this team, and this team’s become a part of him, and that’s never lost.”
For the first time in Manero’s head coaching tenure, he named only one captain. Jaconski was an easy choice.
“That’s not to say we don’t have guys that are good leaders,” the PW coach said. “We have a lot of guys, but I don’t want to have five captains. I think he’s number one in that role, and he serves that role very well.
“He’s very down to earth. Players learn a lot by watching him. We always think a captain is the link between the coaches and the players, but it’s very rare that you would get players to buy into it that much where (your) becomes their message.”
Jaconski’s journey to Plymouth Whitemarsh High School was hardly typical. He attended Ridge Park Elementary School from kindergarten through third grade, but from there, he went to St. Philip Neri School fourth through eighth grades. In ninth grade, Joe – as well as younger brother Jesse - attended Springside-Chestnut Hill Academy, and both returned to SCH the following fall.
“I always grew up around all the kids at PW – I just had never even thought of going there,” Jaconski said. “I live right next to the school and I had never even been in it.
“My brother kind of wanted to go look at it, so I was like, ‘All right, I’ll go look at it too.’ I had a great tour with Dr. (Jason) Bacani, the principal who was the principal when I was at Ridge Park. When I went in, I was so surprised how nice the school was. I met a couple of teachers, and I was like, ‘I’m on board.’”
In January of 2019, the Jaconski brothers transferred to PW. From the outset, Joe knew he’d found a home, fitting in immediately with a senior heavy squad that went on to capture the program’s first SOL American Conference title since 2005 and advanced to the PIAA 6A state quarterfinals.
“It was awesome – they accepted me, it was great,” Jaconski said. “It’s an awesome environment. We grew up around each other, and it felt like such a family because we all knew who each other were, we hung out with each other, we played with each other. We jelled so well together.”
Manero remembers seeing Jaconski at the first indoor workout doing a ground ball drill with then senior Anthony Tomassetti.
“He just fit right in,” the PW coach said. “More importantly, the seniors on that team – who had been here a long time and done a lot of work – recognized his impact, and they welcomed him. For a kid who came in here as a 10th grader and wasn’t around these guys a lot, he just meshed right in.”
A first team All-SOL American Conference shortstop as a sophomore, Jaconski hit .442 in league play with a .547 on-base percentage and a 1.315 OPS. His brother Jesse – then a freshman – also was an impact player on that squad.
“We got a two-for-one deal,” Manero said. “We had a really good crop of players two years ago, but there’s no doubt – those two players accentuated it.
“They talk about the Phillies of the late ‘70s that were really good, but it wasn’t until Pete Rose came that they won the World Series. (Joe) is the starting shortstop, and that is the most important position on the field. They were huge additions. They have really helped to elevate the program.”
Growing up, Jaconski played every sport possible with his main sports football, basketball and baseball. He stopped playing football when he was 11 and basketball after his eighth grade year. Baseball, he said, has always been number one.
“I’ve always been in love with baseball,” Jaconski said. “I’ve had a bat in my hands since I started walking. My dad would work out with me and throw with me. He was a very good baseball player in high school, but his dad wanted him to become the owner of the family hardware store when he was out of high school, so my dad went to work right away instead and didn’t get a chance to play college baseball.”
Attending Phillies games was a part of Jaconski’s life for as long as he can remember.
“I was there when they won the 2008 World Series,” he said. “I was there for all of the NLCS, all the playoff games.”
Jaconski went through the Whitemarsh Little League ranks, winning district titles his 11U and 12U years. He joined All In Baseball on the AAU circuit at the 13U level and the following year moved on to Zoom Baseball (formerly Philly Blue Sox). It didn’t take long for Jaconski to catch the eye of college recruiters, and although he was playing 14U, Jaconski – along with a teammate who is also going to UNC – were invited to play up with a 17U team in several fall tournaments.
“We went down to Florida, and we actually both played very well,” Jaconski said. “We were fortunate to play the number two team the country where there were many eyes.
“Basically, every single college in the country was there to watch the game. (My teammate) pitched at the age of 14, and he threw very well. I played pretty well, and then schools followed me around the rest of the week in Florida.”
Several weeks later, in October of his freshman year, Jaconski committed to perennial powerhouse University of North Carolina.
“It’s definitely a relief, but also, it’s not easy,” he said. “Having a target on your back for a freshman in high school baseball is not the easiest thing to go through.
“You’re going to face teams – they know who you are, they’re going to want to get you rattled and say stuff to you. You just have to keep your mind straight and keep your mind off that kind of stuff.”
UNC turned out to be an easy choice for Jaconski.
“I grew up a North Carolina fan,” he said. “My travel coach did play for North Carolina, and he always talked about how amazing it was.
“I went on a visit to Virginia Tech, and the next weekend I went to North Carolina, and I got offered there. I was just blown away by the campus and just starstruck, so I said ‘yes’ right on the spot. There were definitely other schools I was talking to, but North Carolina was my dream school since I was eight years old. When I stepped on campus, I was like, ‘This is where I want to be.’”
For now, there’s no place Jaconski would rather be than playing with his PW squad, especially after missing out on his junior season that was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We felt like we’d grown so much from our sophomore year, and we felt like we could be even better with the talent we brought back and the experience we had,” he said of the 2020 squad that included six players now competing in the college ranks. “We felt we were more mature and ready to go on a run my junior year.”
The cancelled season changed everyone’s perspective.
“Nothing is given to you, you have to earn it,” Jaconski said. “You have to take advantage of the opportunities that are given to you because not everyone has these opportunities, and as we see, it can be taken away in the blink of an eye. You’re spoiled because you have such great opportunities, and when they’re not there for you, it’s just hard to go through.”
Jaconski is off to a torrid start this season hitting out of the leadoff spot. In 17 plate appearances, he is hitting .500 with two home runs and seven RBIs. His on-base percentage is .647 and he has a 1.980 OPS.
“He’s off to a ridiculous start this year,” Manero said. “He’s just hitting the cover off the ball.”
And what makes Jaconski so good?
“It goes without saying, but number one is the physical tools that he brings,” Manero said. “His ability to hit the ball – you can just tell. The contact he makes, his approach at the plate, the way the ball comes off his bat. Things that when you see hundreds of high school players over the years, certain guys just jump out. Offensively, that’s him.
“Aside from the offense, he is the kind of guy – he has so much game knowledge and game awareness on the field. His ability to be that leader in the infield whether it’s pickoff plays, holding runners on – he has a presence on the field. He has a knowledge of the game, and he has instincts. It’s those intangibles. By the time kids get to high school, you can teach a lot of technique, you can teach a lot of things skill related, but it’s hard to teach instincts. Some guys just have it, and he’s one of them.”
Making the season even more enjoyable for Jaconski is yet another opportunity to play with his brother.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “We’re very close. Growing up, we played on the same teams as each other. We hang out with the same friend group.
“We’re like best friends, so I work out with him, I hit with him, I field with him. We do everything together, so playing with him is an awesome opportunity.”
It’s an opportunity that will extend beyond high school. Five months ago, Jesse Jaconski committed to UNC as well.
“He was struggling with recruiting during COVID, and he was getting upset,” Joe Jaconski said. “It hit a point where North Carolina said – if we want both of them, we have to go after him. He’s grown tremendously better from his freshman year to his junior year.”
As far as choosing a major, Jaconski is considering exercise and sports science but has his sights set on a career as a professional baseball player.
“He’s one of those special kind of players that absolutely has a chance,” Manero said. “It’s definitely realistic. It’s a goal a lot of kids dream of, but by the time they get to high school, they can’t really say that, but I think for him it’s real.
“It takes a special kind of person – it’s not just being good at a sport. Just like we say to our kids in high school – if you want to play in college, it takes a whole another level of work, a whole another level of commitment. He definitely has that.”
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