I had the opportunity to hop on a video call with Legion Sports CEO and Owner, Rex Jackson. We talked about his background and love for the game of baseball, coaching, and where he sees the Legion Sports family for the impending future. Enjoy the following Q&A from our conversation today.
On Baseball, Where It All Began:
S:When did you know you loved the game of baseball?
R:When did I fall in love with the game of baseball? I grew up loving basketball. I always liked baseball and always played baseball. It wasn’t until I was around a sophomore or junior in high school. I had a moment in the outfield where I ran and made a great diving catch. Everyone was going crazy. I remember, that was cool.
I remember watching the Yankee/Red Sox series, in 04? The year the Red Sox came back. I remember watching that series and the Yankees being up 3-0. I thought it was over. I kept tuning it and they kept winning. Why are more people not in love with this game?
Growing up in Georgia, I was watching the Braves. I've always been in love with the Braves. Guys like Chipper Jones, Andrew Jones, John Rocker, John Smoltz.
S: When did you start playing?
R: As soon as you could play, about 4 or 5 years old, with tee-ball.
S: When did the thought of playing professionally was a real possibility? When did you really recognize that you were on that level?
R: In high school. Junior or senior year, I was pretty confident that my game was going to continually progress. I just knew I could do it.
I had a scholarship to play at Eastern Shore. It turned out, I was ineligible to play D-1. I was a credit off out of high school. I played at a top D3 school in PA. I ended up coming home and going to JUCO. There, I didn’t get along with the coach, wasn’t getting the playing time and started to fall out of love with the game. I wanted to be
a normal kid, go to college, do what normal 18-19-year-old kids do. I took the next 5-6 years off. I'm probably a better ball player now as a grown up compared to when I was younger and I was a beast back then. I remember those days.
S: What level did you play at?
R: I played in an Independent league, the Pacos League. I was in spring training in Houston for a month. I didn’t know until I got there, that there was no guaranteed spots. I had to win a spot. That didn’t change anything for me. I ended up winning a spot and I was one of the first ones taken. I was taken by the White Sands Pupfish. They wanted me to be their 3-hitter, power guy.
S: How did you handle facing an injury that ended your professional journey?
R: I played through it. I wasn’t sidelined, but I had been hurt from spring training in Houston, to several months after and then I came back home. I was in a lot of pain for a long time. No excuses, though. I never got to the point where I wanted to give up. The last time I felt like that was when I left college. When I finally came back, I remember how much I loved the game. I still wanted to go play and go pro. Was I doing it for that purpose? Not necessarily. I made the decision that once I came back, I couldn’t leave it again. I couldn’t leave it like I did the first time.
I enjoy coaching a lot more now than I did playing. It’s really for feeling. I could never not love the game.
S: Who is your all-time favorite player and why?
R: All time – Manny Ramirez. I grew up watching Manny as a clutch hitter, his swag. He was just an animal and charismatic. He didn’t really care about a lot of stuff. Manny was that guy.
Ichiro and Griffey, too.
Today would be Acuña – I don’t know how to put it into words. He’s a kid. He’s a 20-year-old kid. He is just an animal. It helps that he plays for my Atlanta Braves. I was keeping up with him in the minors. His approach to hitting, his calmness, his stance, all that good stuff. He’s just really, really, really good. He’s just so young to be that impactfull. When he came up as a rookie, he went on that tear. I think he hit 8 or 9 first inning home runs and then followed that up and had a 40/40 season his sophomore year.
S: What do you think this delay in baseball means for the MLB? It’s May now and based on recent reports, they were talking about bringing back baseball to Arizona this month. What are your thoughts on that?
R: I think it would be great, only if people are safe. If they have a way of doing it and we can watch and enjoy the game and these players can go out and do what they do. They’ve prepared for a season that hasn’t even happened. Football has the best outcome, they had just finished their season. They can monitor whether or not they are coming back and base their workouts on that. Baseball had just started
spring training – it’s like we're in a super long rain delay.
A shortened season is going to be a little bit botched because it takes baseball players a while to get their legs under them, get used to seeing high velocity pitching. That's the reason for the long season, because 30 games is when the players start to get a feel for it. They were talking about playing double header games and fitting all 162 in, and that’s just not reasonable to me. Maybe being in Arizona they can go into December. Maybe if they did a quick spring training and then did an 80 game season or something.
People would love it and it would be good for the game of baseball because there are no other sports going on right now. As long as they can do it in a way where people are safe – no need to rush back and put anybody at risk. Players in general might be putting themselves at risk by rushing back, not being prepared to play. They are under quarantine the same way we are. They might not be thinking "I’m going to be playing baseball in May". You don’t want to put them at risk of getting injured.
S: You coach at the high school level. What would you tell one of your players if they approach you saying they have dreams of going pro?
R: The first thing I would say is this: with baseball, the opportunities are so much more vast than any other sport. There are so many professional levels of baseball all across the country, that are not tied to one of the 30 MLB organizations. Then, with the MLB, each one of the teams has about 6 or 7 levels below it of minor league ball. They
are drafting hundreds of people every year. Out side of that there are other independent opportunities like the one I had.
Put in the work now. Don’t take the time for granted, like working with certain coaches and teammates. Hit the weight room. I think that’s what changed my game as an adult. As a high school kid, I worked out, but not like at the level I started doing in 2015, 2016. I felt like nothing could stop me. That’s the same thing I try to instill in my players, just putting in the work. Getting up and putting in the work. There’s going to be opportunities. If you put in the work, you’re going to have those opportunities well
into your 30's.
S: What would you tell kids that are getting to that injury and suffer a serious injury?
R: Well, it’s different for us because we’re on the backside of our careers. We’re a little bit older. You’re talking about an 18-year-old getting that kind of news? Injuries happen. Obviously, that’s the age going into college, you’re missing out on pivotal time. Guys today are coming back even stronger by having Tommy John surgery. Do what the doctors say, continue to strengthen and get better and you’ll be back. You’re young. You've got the opportunity. You can afford to take a year off if need be. It always sucks to miss time.
S: What’s your favorite part about coaching?
R: When they figure it out. I love it. Whether it’s their swing or just understanding something about base-running or if they’re able to start to pick it up. When that light bulb comes on? When they start to understand the game, that’s when I start to get super excited. This is why we do this, try it this way. It takes them a while. When they figure it out, that’s cool. When you got this, now we can keep going. And then they get excited about it too. They are falling over themselves with how happy they are. I love it
when they figure it out
On The Origin and Rise of Legion Sports:
S: How did you come up with the idea for Legion Sports?
R: Once I got back from a workout in Tampa in 2019. It was after that, that I knew I was done playing professionally. I came up with the idea. I was working my job – it’s crazy how when you’re not in the right place that you’re supposed to be, you know, if you’re a spiritual person, the Lord will push you out of a situation that’s not
for you. He'll make it visible that something else is right for you. Everything kind of started to come to a head and I just needed to create something, to make something that’s FOR me and FOR others. You don’t have to have someone breathing down your neck. You shouldn’t have to feel that you’re doing anything other than being who you are. I started a company out of necessity. It’s something I believe in.
This area has taken a hit. Baseball has taken a hit. Kids aren’t coming out to play and tryout.
S: Where’d you get the name from?
R: I've been saying the phrase, “For The Legion” since I was 21-22 years old. I was saying it in 2019, before I had even started the company, my neck tattoo says Legion. It’s just a name and phrase that’s been in my vocabulary since I was young. When I was in art school and skateboarding – I’ve just been believing in that for a long time.
S: Sounds like you created Legion Sports out of a supply and demand situation. What was your original goal in doing so?
R: My initial reason was just because I just love baseball. I love the weight room and I love apparel. I wanted to create something geared around that. It just so happens that this area doesn’t have a lot of representation like that in general. The east coast is just lacking. There ARE people out there doing their thing, shout out to them. But, my area specifically, there’s not a lot of baseball guys – athletes it seems like. In a way, I ended up filling a need by doing something that I love and care about and really just enjoy. That way I can still be around the game and do all that.
S: Where do you see the company operating in 5 years, realistically?
R: In a five year span – we’re going to be globally recognized. We’re going to be opening a few training facilities on the east coast – and hopefully one in Texas. We’ll be starting up the next stage of our plan, of our business model, which is a sports agency. We’ll be looking to represent some of the top athletes in all sports. We want to groom athletes, get them better prepared and then moving on into actually representing top
level professional athletes. At the bottom end of the 5th year mark – we’ll be setting that up to head into the next five years.
S: What’s your favorite part about running the company?
R: I've really been enjoying doing the apparel and I’ve been enjoying working in the media representation side. Working with photographers, videographers, trying to convey certain emotions to kind of be the voice of our brand. That’s the age we’re in. We’re driven by imagery. I’m not able to train, I’m not able to coach right now. You've got to pivot and adjust to what’s going on. I’ve been getting into the presentation, the aesthetic, the representation of who we are. I think it’s really important.
S: Would you want to do anything differently?
R: Never satisfied. The opportunity for us to be better is the most enticing thing. We have a good strong foundation. The foundation around our company. It’s still early. If I could change anything? I’d like for us to be more active. I’d like to do more. I’d like to highlight more people that are in the company. I’d like to do a Legion Lunch with the editor. I’d like to do more in person traveling, getting us active. We’re kind of
held back from that at the moment. Other than that, we’re learning as we go.
S: My high school coach and one of my college professors really made me who I am today. Who is the biggest influence in your life?
R: Growing up, my father instilled a lot of values in me, just about being a man and how to carry yourself. Certain things he taught me. My high school coach was a big influence, too. For the first part of my life, there were certain teachers that were there.
I really learned a lot more by being on my own. Just a combination. My
mother and father and my high school coach and then my own personal just dealing with stuff. I never grew up looking up to celebrities or athletes.
S: What would you tell someone struggling right now during this gym lockout?
R: I would say don’t be so hard on yourself. I would say – this isn’t your fault. Can you make a choice to try to do more, get up and be more active? Yes. Is it going to give you the same results of you going to the gym on a consistent basis? No. We can’t use it as an excuse. Oh this happens, so no. Ease up on ourselves. Stop being so hard on ourselves. It’s madness for everyone. I realize that this thing is bigger
than us right now. I just don’t want anybody to go backwards, or feel like it’s okay to go backwards. Doing something else or doing more of something else that you could be doing. Just maintain. Do the best you can. Find ways to still be active and get your work in. Just don’t be so hard on yourself. This is difficult for us all.
S: If you could leave one message for the people what would it be?
R: I enjoy the journey – I enjoy what we’re doing. I want more people to fall in love with us for the right reasons and walk with us on this path. I just want people to check us out and be more attentive – but that would be the selfish thing.
The helpful thing is that you keep going – with whatever path you were on before. You think it got derailed? I don’t think that’s true. There’s always going to be hurdles in life, whether its this pandemic or child support or whatever. Keep going. Find a way out of noway and don’t be so hard on yourself. These aren’t sprints we are running. It’s a triathlon. Through water and uphill. Fall in love with what you’re doing. Find something
that you love and just go after it. Let it kill you. Let it fill you up until you’re full of happiness and you can be a complete person and just be happy.
That’s what I hope they hear. And that everybody is okay.
*All photos taken by Senior Editor, Stephanie Rockwood