John Jaso knew he wanted to retire, so he started shopping for sailboats. It was the 2017 season, and Jaso, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ first baseman, would spend his downtime at home browsing on boat websites. And when the Pirates visited a team near a body of water, he would wander the marinas and imagine himself on the open water.
One June morning in Baltimore, before a 7:10 p.m. first pitch against the Orioles, Jaso rented a car and drove to Annapolis, Md. There, he found the boat he’d been looking for: a 2014 Jeanneau 44 DS. He had it surveyed, bought it and had it shipped to his off-season home in St. Petersburg, Fla. He made it back to the stadium in time to go 2 for 4 with an R.B.I.
Four months later, when the Pirates’ season ended without a playoff berth, a handful of reporters wandered over to Jaso’s locker and asked him what his plans were. He had reached the end of his two-year, $8 million deal with the team and was set to become a free agent. He told them that his next destination would be somewhere in the Caribbean. He was retiring.
“I have a sailboat,” he said, “so I just want to sail away.”
Five years later, as pitchers and catchers began flooding into spring training camps in Arizona and Florida on Monday, Jaso, the last catcher to have caught a perfect game, has no regrets about having sailed off into the sunset. “Sometimes I’ll just be out on the boat bobbing in the water, not sailing or even fishing, and I’ll think to myself: ‘There’s nowhere else on the planet I’d rather be than right here,’” he said. “It’s been the perfect fit for who I am.”
Jaso’s baseball journey was never quite as good a fit. Tampa Bay selected him in the 12th round of the 2003 draft, and he made it to the majors near the end of the 2008 season. In his nine-year career, he was traded three times and switched to first base from catcher after sustaining multiple concussions. But he had plenty of highlights too: He caught Félix Hernández’s 2012 perfect game for the Seattle Mariners — there hasn’t been one in M.L.B. since — and hit for the first cycle in PNC Park history when he was with Pittsburgh in 2016. His long dreadlocks toward the end of his career made him almost instantly recognizable. And he pulled in career earnings of more than $17 million, according to Spotrac.
But he found the M.L.B. life to be unfulfilling in some unexpected ways. “Baseball set me up for life,” he said. “I love it, and I respect it. But…
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