This Oklahoma baseball recruit from Sacred Heart Griffin just keeps getting better

Sacred Heart-Griffin's RJ Jimerson (15) celebrates a triple against St. Joseph-Ogden in the second inning during the Class 2A Supersectional at Workman Family Baseball Field in Decatur, Ill., Monday, June 14, 2021. [Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register]
Bill Welt
State Journal-Register

RJ Jimerson insists baseball players are the best athletes.

“Easily,” the Sacred Heart-Griffin senior outfielder said. “It's not even a question. The hardest thing to do in sports is hit a baseball.” 

Jimerson would know. He played a variety of sports as a youth, experiences that helped him become the versatile athlete he is today. Baseball, though, always loomed the largest because nothing quite matches the adrenaline rush of wailing the ball.  

“I love hitting,” the heralded Oklahoma recruit said. “Just hearing the crack of the bat — whether it's wood or metal — just excites me. It's really fun.” 

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The full package 

Jimerson’s attributes extend beyond hitting. He also has blazing speed on the base paths and a cannon arm.  In Tuesday’s 15-11 loss to Rochester, he nearly threw out a runner heading to third base for a triple from the right field warning track.  

He has lately emerged as a vocal leader to round things out. 

“With me being a senior, I've kind of taken on more of a leadership role this year, and especially vocal because I didn't really talk a lot,” Jimerson said. “But in a certain way that's helped me be more versatile as a player on the field.” 

It was perhaps the last missing piece in his well-rounded resume.

“I kind of just went out and played just because I was athletic and stuff, but now as I'm getting older, I'm still athletic but watching the game and understanding more of the mental side has helped me progress further, and without that I wouldn't be committed or signed right now.” 

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SHG coach Nick Naumovich described Jimerson as a quiet, humble kid freshman year and attested to his overall progression since then. 

“He's been blessed,” Naumovich said. “He's got some special skills, and he does work very hard, too. He's certainly been blessed, but he's certainly put in a lot of time to keep becoming a better player.” 

Sacred Heart-Griffin senior RJ Jimerson races home against Rochester at Comstock Field on Tuesday, April 5.

Enjoying the moment 

Jimerson committed to the Sooners as an underclassman and officially signed earlier this school year.  

None of that has seemed to affect his sunny disposition. 

“With RJ, it's never been a situation where I think he was bigger than the team or the situation was bigger than him,” Naumovich said. “Whether he was going to Oklahoma or anywhere else, I don't think that ever played into how he handles things. I think he handles pressure well.” 

Jimerson said he’s had nothing but fun since making the decision. 

“I don't really get mad, like I get aggravated easily but not mad,” Jimerson said. “I don't like losing, though, so don't mix those up. But probably on the team I may be the most laidback guy just because I believe in having fun. Just enjoy the game.

"If the guys can have fun and we can win, I say let's go for it.” 

That’s his main message to his generally younger teammates: Have fun and relax. 

“I know we're young, and it's a lot of first-timers this year, but it's still baseball,” Jimerson said. “The only difference is the game speeds up, and you kind of just got to learn how to slow that down.

"That's kind of what I've been preaching in the dugout: slow the game down, have fun and remember it's baseball. They put on their pants just the same way we do, so just have fun with it.” 

Name carries weight 

If anything, it just puts a great, big asterisk next to his name on the lineup card.

Teams are more than wary of Jimerson and tend to pitch around him. That’s why Naumovich elevated Jimerson to the leadoff spot this season.  

“We wanted to try to maximize the amount of at-bats he got," Naumovich said, "and it was a way for us to try to keep him from getting pitched around a little bit."

Jimerson embraces the move. He blasted a walk-off home run in the eighth inning of Saturday's 8-7 nonconference win over Collinsville at Comstock Field. It was his third of the season.

Last spring, Jimerson hit .372 with 30 RBIs and 31 runs out of the Nos. 3 and 4 positions. He also had 11 stolen bases. 

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“At the time I had an opportunity to see pitches, now I'm leading off and I am the first pitch,” Jimerson said. “It's a little weird, but I like it. I see more fastballs. Teams are forced to throw to me now, and I'm able to have more opportunities to put the ball in play and help my team win.” 

The Cyclones settled for fourth place in the Class 2A state finals last summer but largely have a fresh, new group this year after 14 of those seniors graduated.  

Jimerson is about having fun this year. But don’t get him wrong. He’s still trying to win. 

“The goal is just the same as last year: make it to state but try to bump it up this year and win it because we talked about making it last year,” Jimerson said. “We made it, but we came up a little bit short, so might as well push it one more and try further and see if we can pull it off.” 

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