TPR11 Bonus Chapter: Jaso Leads Off

Simplicity is John Jaso’s appeal. He wears the haircut of an honest man – buzzed short or occasionally shaved – a classic mark unlike his teammate Evan Longoria’s grungy ‘do or spiritual predecessor Gregg Zaun’s free-flowing locks. The vintage look carries over to Jaso’s uniform. Batting gloves and team-wide stirrups on Sundays interrupt an otherwise accessory free appearance. Even Jaso’s musical tastes and offseason conquests are old school, as he hikes the west coast by his lonesome.

Jaso’s offensive approach is simple too. Jaso will not swing if he determines a pitch is on its way outside of the strike zone. Labeling this an approach is probably being too casual, as Jaso’s pitch selection seems to teeter on the thinnest border between obsession and religion. At times, it seems Jaso follows the scripture of Youkilis, where swinging at a poor pitch is a sin – one punishable by eternal damnation and pitchfork poking. As dogmatic as Jaso is at the plate, the shackles fall once he reaches base.

The late season play in Anaheim unfolded in an innocuous manner. Jaso stood at first base with B.J. Upton at third and Ben Zobrist at the plate. A flare into left field sent the shortstop, Erick Aybar, barreling into the left fielder’s terrain. Aybar tracked the ball and hauled it in, but took a little too long to admire his feat, losing sight of the outs count. He spun and fired, but it was too late – Upton had since scattered into the dugout and Jaso stood on third, advancing two bases on a play where many would advance none – the glory of Jaso shines through on the paths.


Graphic courtesy of Josh Frank

Big league pitchers throw thousands of pitches during the season and uncork a wild pitch every 250-to-300 pitches, if that often. Depending on playing time, a catcher may go weeks, maybe longer, without facing the ultimate reflexes challenge. Jaso knows how important half of a second is when it comes to advancing on the bases and takes advantage by making fast decisions.

The funny thing about Jaso is how his most daring advancements tend to conclude with him reaching without a slide. The ball bounces just away from the catcher who reacts gingerly, suspecting Jaso will stay put. The tendency to follow the ball means most eyes are on the catcher, while live viewing makes it impossible; television (and the wonders of replay) captures the quick shift from ambivalence to horror once he realizes Jaso is not going, but already gone.

What Jaso lacks for in speed and grace, he makes up for in decisiveness. His success does not seem to arrive solely from young legs – or at least legs as youthful as being a 27-year-old catcher allows – as he will be the second oldest starting catcher in the division come Opening Day (until Jesus Montero possibly dethrones Russell Martin).What separates Jaso is not heart or soul or mind or body, but attitude. Make them catch you is not always a sound strategy. Nobody applauded the idea when Hank Blalock took off towards third base before Tommy Hunter started his delivery in a series against Texas because it failed.

Jaso will fail too. He is but a simple man with a simple plan; the only hard part is catching him.

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