Blazing his own trail

You hear it all the time – aren’t you related to?

It’s a curse of the last name, sometimes. People expect you to be and act a certain way. They want you to be like the same person that carries the same name. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.

While the sibling may play the same sport of their father, it doesn’t mean they will be the same person. It doesn’t mean they will have the same career as he did. Expectations can be a tough pill to swallow – it’s how it goes down which will tell the type of person you will become.

Jackson Winkelsas knows what it’s like to carry the burden of a famous last name, at least famous in the Western New York baseball circles. His dad, Joe, was a standout at Bishop Timon High School before playing ball at Elon College.

From there, Joe went on to play pro ball and eventually made his Major League debut with the Atlanta Braves.

But, this isn’t a story about the old man, this is a story about a young man trying to make a name for himself in school and this wonderful game called baseball. Baseball is hard enough without added pressure.

Winkelsas knows the connection with his dad will always be there, but, at the end of the day, he is trying to carve his own niche.

“Big teams and sports complexes learn my last name and it’s aggrevating,” stated Winkelsas. “I always tell them you know what he’s him and I’m me just let it go.”

His niche has led him to Maritime Charter School in the city of Buffalo. After a brief stint at Canisius High School, Winkelsas transferred to the military charter school. The school is a military type school that instills discipline in their students.

There is no black or white at Maritime, every student must obey the same rules. While some embrace the change, others fight it – at least in the beginning. Winkelsas fully admits he needed a little extra discipline.

He also fully admits the change to this type of school took a little getting used to.

“I came here my sophomore year from Canisius High School,” stated Winkelsas. “I need a little bit of discipline, and this school has provided that. The baseball team is good and the education is good. It’s a really good fit. For me it took all of sophomore year (to get used to military life). I had no clue what I was doing. They would yell out commands to me and I would have no clue what they were saying.”

Now, though, he is settled and the baseball team is glad to have him. He is a dominating presence on the mound, and throws hard – but also changes speeds effectively.

Maritime coach Jeff Helembrecht rode his arm, a few others, to a 14-3 record and birth in the Section VI playoffs. Winkelsas had a good year on the mound, and he was able to take a one pitch approach.

“(My dad tough me) just one pitch at a time,” stated Winkelsas. “Even if things are going bad, one pitch can get you out of an inning. Just stick to the basics.”

Baseball has always been in Winkelsas’ blood. He was never forced to play the sport, but his dad always made sure he played something.

With his dad , and uncles playing baseball, it just seemed like a natural fit. Winkelsas was always around the game, so he just fell in love with. Without any pressure from anyone else.

“It was a family game with my dad and my uncles playing it. I grew up around it,” stated Winklesas. “he would always tell you ‘you don’t have to play baseball, but you have to play something.’ So, I figured that I might as well play baseball.”

Winkelsas is such a nature at pitching that one would think he was doing it his entire life. While he has pitched for a while, the plan was not to have him start pitching until he was 16 years of age.

The later start on the mound would allow his body and arm to develop more and cut down the possibility of having arm issues. But, sometimes, plans change.

“”I wasn’t supposed to pitch until I was 16 (years old), because he didn’t want to hurt my arm,” stated Winkelsas. “But, when I was 9 years old, he said just go out there and have fun.”

Being on the mound for Winkelsas is like a release. He gets to be himself when he toe’s the rubber every couple of days. You hear that a lot from athletes who go to military schools.

They live such a structured life for most of the day and week, that when they are able to get out and play sports you see there true personality. The inner child comes out and it’s just you and the batter.

“I just get to be free. I just to get be myself,” stated Winkelsas. “It’s something I know I can do. It’s something that I know that I am good at. I’d rather pitch than play first.”

This being his final year of high school, Winkelsas needs to make a decision on where he will continue his education and if he wants to play ball still. He has looked at some schools and is leaning toward Erie Community College.

ECC has a solid baseball program and he would get the much-needed development before heading off to a four-year school. Community colleges want to win, but they also know their job is to develop young people to have them be successful later in life.

“I’m probably going to go to ECC, because I don’t know what I want to major in yet,” stated Winkelsas. “I just need to play my game and know what I can do and not get a big head.”