John Jaso knew he wanted to retire, so he started buying sailboats. It was the 2017 season, and Jaso, the Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman, was spending his free time at home browsing boat websites. And when the Pirates visited a team near a body of water, he would wander around the marinas and imagine himself in 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, Maryland. There, he found the boat he was looking for: a 2014 Jeanneau 44 DS. He had it inspected, purchased it, and had it shipped to his off-season home in St. Petersburg, Florida. He returned to the stadium in time to go 2 for 4 with an RBI.
Four months later, when the Pirates’ season ended without a playoff berth, a handful of reporters walked up to Jaso’s locker and asked him what his plans were. He had reached the end of his two-year, $8 million contract with the team and was set to become a free agent. He told them his next destination would be somewhere in the Caribbean. He was retiring.
“I have a sailboat,” he said, “so I just want to leave.”
Five years later, as pitchers and catchers began streaming into spring training camps in Arizona and Florida on Monday, Jaso, the last catcher to catch a perfect game, has no regrets about having sailed into the sunset. “Sometimes I’m just on the boat, floating in the water, not sailing or even fishing, and I think, ‘There’s nowhere else on the planet I’d rather be here.'” , did he declare. . “It fits perfectly with who I am.”
Jaso’s baseball journey has never been better suited. Tampa Bay selected him in the 12th round of the 2003 draft and he reached the majors near the end of the 2008 season. During his nine-year career, he was traded three times and moved from catcher to first base after suffering several concussions. But he also had plenty of highlights: He caught Félix Hernández’s perfect game in 2012 for the Seattle Mariners (there hasn’t been one in MLB since) and scored for the first round of the PNC Park’s story when he was with Pittsburgh in 2016. The dreadlocks toward the end of his career made him almost immediately recognizable. And he has earned more than $17 million in his career, according to Spotrac.
But he found life in MLB unfulfilling in some unexpected ways. “Baseball prepared me for life,” he said. “I love him and I respect him. But it was part of this culture of consumerism and overconsumption that was starting to weigh very heavily on me. Even when I retired, people were like, “You might lose millions of dollars!” But I had already made millions of dollars. Why do we always have to have more, more and more?
Boating filled the void in his life. He became familiar with every foot of the ship. He took a course in diesel engine mechanics and installed solar panels and a wind turbine. He devoured hours of YouTube videos about electronics and made sure he knew what each wire did. “If something goes wrong on the high seas,” he said, “only I can fix it.” »
All that remained was to learn to sail.
He found an ad for a sunset excursion on Craigslist and emailed the captain, offering him a few hundred dollars for a crash course in commanding a boat. After a few hours, he felt comfortable enough to go it alone. “It was like learning how to hit a fastball and release a slider,” he said. “You can hear coaches talk about it all day, but you’ll only learn how to do it if you face it in a game.”
Jaso named his boat Roaming Rose and began taking day trips to the Gulf of Mexico in early 2018. One spring day, he was working on his boat when he was hit by a sudden and strange sensation. “I thought, something feels really weird right now,” he said. “Like I’m forgetting something.” And then it hit me: I should have been in spring training. I started laughing because I realized: I didn’t miss it at all.
He undertook his first major journey a few weeks later. He sailed south to Key West and stayed on the boat for three weeks before heading to the Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas, anchoring in a protected bay for nearly a month. He took off when he heard of a major storm crossing the Atlantic. He avoided most of the wind and rain during the five-day return journey, but on the final night he said he encountered strong winds and lightning.
On deck, he kept one hand on the steering wheel and another on his travel bag. His life jacket was securely attached in case he was thrown overboard. He watched the lightning marring the sky and felt its surges shake the boat. He alerted the Coast Guard to his location and called his brother for backup. After a few hours of restlessness, he was back on dry land.
“In the moment, you’re terrified and you want to be as far away from danger as possible,” he said. “But once it’s over, you appreciate where you are more. There’s this euphoria that comes over you when the storm clouds part. It’s like holding your breath underwater, then coming to the surface and taking that first gulp of air.
When Jaso described the experience to Fernando Perez, a friend and former teammate, Perez wasn’t surprised at all. “Playing professional baseball is kind of a drug,” said Perez, who is now a video analyst with the San Francisco Giants. “When you retire, you have to find another high. The drug John found allowed him to be in the middle of nowhere and keep himself alive. This first storm did not frighten him. He loved getting caught up in it.
For the first two years after his retirement, Jaso spent about six months a year on his boat. For the rest, he was based in Saint Petersburg. Although he says he no longer follows baseball, he tries to attend a game or two every year. In 2018, during a Rays victory against the Boston Red Sox, he attempted to go down to the dugout to greet some former teammates. But a bailiff saw his tie-dye sleeveless T-shirt and his lack of a ticket and beckoned him to come back to cheap seats. Eventually another bailiff recognized him and dropped him.
He also made several trips to Europe, discovering a passion for exploring his father’s ancestral land, in the Basque Country, in northern Spain. And he drove a campervan in Australia and Indonesia. But the boat was his greatest pleasure. “I want my life to be simple, and there’s nothing simpler than being on a sailboat,” he said. “You treat the boat well, and it treats you well. That’s all we can say about it.”
Before the pandemic, he docked Roaming Rose in the Turks and Caicos Islands. With travel restrictions, he was stuck there for almost two years. When he was allowed to return to collect the boat in 2022, he took his girlfriend, Jayden Davila, on a three-month sail around the Caribbean. They docked in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.
“John is a pretty peaceful person in general,” Davila said. “But there’s another level of peace and happiness for him when he’s on the boat.” Even when there are problems – and something is still wrong – he loved to deal with them. When things are quiet, sometimes he randomly picks up his guitar and starts playing. It’s really a good existence for him there.
Jaso still lives primarily in St. Petersburg, where he manages a few investment properties. But he rarely stays in one place for long. This winter he snowboarded in Colorado and Wyoming. In the spring, he will be back on the boat.
“When you sail, you go back to something primitive,” he says. “You move away from the material world – from this concrete, electronic world. And you come back to that feeling of wonder. It’s the same feeling you get when you hold a newborn in your arms, look into their eyes and feel the world disappear around you.
“Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we all come from the same place. When you’re on the water, you remember that.