“I wake up fine,” said John Jaso of his relative morning clarity, as he recovers from a concussion he suffered when a mid-August pitch rattled his face mask. “As the day goes on, I get all the visual stimuli and start getting foggy.” And this he said after a relatively good day gave him the encouragement to pronounce he’d be back this season, and probably soon.
This Monday began with that good clear morning feeling, but quickly things can get hectic. “Even driving my car, that sets it off,” Jaso said. “Loud, annoying music, too,” he added with a look around the clubhouse. He made a lot of progress while the team was away, not surprisingly.
The day in a typical baseball life is highly scheduled, and Jaso is headed towards resuming that life. So on Monday, he attempted to do many of the things he would normally do, but he had to be careful. “It’s on me now,” said Jaso of stopping a physical drill if his symptoms ramp up too much — “I can’t say I’ll just push through this and it’ll be fine.”
It was pushing through the symptoms that got him in this position, to some extent. There’s a red line, where more exertion will send him into a downward spiral that leads to massive headaches and nausea. Listening to the catcher describe the final two weeks in August can give you respect for his dedication to his team, or fear for the potential dangerous positions in which he places himself.
When I first got hit, it was nausea and a headache for five straight days. That kind of went away, because I wasn’t catching for a while because we hit a string of lefties. All of a sudden, we hit a string of righties and I was catching a lot and all of a sudden all of my symptoms — I’d been playing through this for a while, I had been foggy and all that through this whole thing — all of a sudden my symptoms just skyrocketed. Irritability, fogginess. I was keeping to myself. I was just playing through it, playoff push. It ramped up and I could not do it any more. Catching-wise especially. I couldn’t react. I couldn’t see the ball sometimes.
Monday, when Jaso headed in to work out, he didn’t know how the rest of the schedule would go. He knew he’d start with rigid exercises that didn’t jostle his head, and re-evaluate after every station. “Stationary lifting where I did almost upright bench presses, standing pulls,” Jaso said of his routine. “Anything as long as my head could stay stable and straight.”
When the fog comes, he has to stop. What’s that fogginess like? “Like waking up in the middle in the night, and you look around and can’t really focus on one thing,” the catcher described. If that fog comes, Jaso has to sit for 20 minutes to half an hour. “Work out once, take a break, work out once more.” If it comes a second time, the day is done.
But Monday came with a good workout, and so the schedule moved forward. Time to shag balls during batting practice and maybe take some swings in the cage. Almost a normal day. Almost. “I threw, I shagged BP and I was getting really crazy up here,” Jaso said as he pointed to his head. “I was supposed to go up to the cage and hit, but I let myself calm down before I hit.”
By the end of the day Monday, Jaso had mostly done what he was supposed to do, with a break or two. And so Tuesday found him taking live batting practice on the field, despite some fog just the day before. “I was foggy yesterday, but I might as well jump to the next stage because I feel like I can,” Jaso said. “I’d rather start taking BP now on the field, because if I’m ready in like three days, I’ll have been taking BP and will be ready to go.”
It’s better these days. It’s been a long time since Jaso pushed it too hard and found himself with a migraine for the rest of the day. The nausea has been gone for a while. The driving is fine now, and he’s resumed baseball activities and the baseball schedule that comes with it. He’s just not checking every box on that schedule in the normal order, not yet.
Someday soon — this season, he’s sure of it — he’ll have a day without fog, and he’ll be able to contribute. This time, though, he’ll be honest with himself about how he’s feeling.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.