For players and fans alike, it is all a matter of perspective. If your team is beginning post-season action today or tomorrow — or if you’re the Braves or Red Sox — you probably can’t be blamed for looking at these inevitably tense battles as life and death. But they really aren’t. As seriously as we take the game of baseball, that is exactly what it is — a game.
John Jaso understands this. The Rays catcher wants to win as badly as anyone, but he also sees the bigger picture. His team is in the midst of a Cinderella story, but winning or losing the World Series won‘t define him as person, nor change the world. It will simply make a number of people very happy, and others very disappointed. Life will go on.
Jaso shared his thoughts when the Rays — at the time still chasing the Red Sox in the standings — visited Fenway Park earlier this month.
[Editor’s note: The following are Jaso’s words, excerpted from a conversation that took place on September 16.]
“Winning a championship is very rewarding and something we all strive for. The funnest days of my life [have been] winning a championship. In Double-A it was amazing. In Triple-A it was amazing. And in 2008, being up here with the team and going to the World Series, was unbelievable. Even last year, coming out on top in the American League East — and it came down to the last game of the season, really — was huge. Those were big moments in my life.
“There is no greater feeling than winning a championship game and it doesn’t matter which level it’s at. The only thing that really changes up here is the money, including the bonuses. When it comes right down to it, you’re playing a long season with pretty much the same people. Not only do you win as a team, the team becomes like a family.
“At the same time, many of us have our own families, along with other things going on outside of the game. Those things kind of become apparent to us when the offseason hits and they’re the things that matter most. Sometimes it takes a traumatic experience to realize it. Maybe it’s a death in the family, or just somebody going into the hospital. Those are the types of instances that put everything into perspective.
“I like to travel, and a refreshing perspective comes when you go to places where people don’t know who you are and don’t really get why it’s such a big deal to be in the position that we’re in. When I explain what I do for a living, it’s almost like I’m playing around and delaying the whole point of getting on with my life and building a career. I think that’s actually refreshing, because this game ends for everybody. A select lucky few get to play for a long time and make a lot of money. But for everyone who plays, whether they’re minor leaguers or major leaguers, life goes on outside of baseball.
“I think fans sometimes do [take the game too seriously]. It gets to the point where they’re like, ‘Why didn’t this individual do this; why did he fail?’ and they’re [angry] It can sometimes get a little out of control and that’s where you, as an individual player, have to block those things out. When it comes down to it, it’s all about knowing that you put your work in, because those things do happen out on the field. If you put in your preparation, and do your best, you can’t really blame yourself.
“When Boston played back in our place, Bard was on the mound and Longo was hitting in the eleventh inning. He hit the ball up the middle and the pitch was 99 [mph] at Longo’s neck. There’s no way he should have been able to hit it, but he did. Bard could just as easily have struck him out right there, with that pitch. It was a little bit of luck meeting preparation and Longoria was renowned as the savior of the game, and Bard was talked about on ESPN as having flunked another game. Bard made the exact pitch he had thrown every single game when he was shutting down all those teams, all those times, and now he supposedly can’t be counted on? No, that’s just baseball.
“As a player, you can become known for just one moment. Not for the whole course of 162 games, or all the seasons you’ve played, but just one defining moment. Look at Bill Buckner. When he meets somebody on the street, the first thought in somebody’s head is always going to be that ball going through his legs. It’s not everything he accomplished or the kind of guy he is. It’s tough in this business. Baseball is entertainment, but a moment might come about that is a failing moment. Then it’s ‘Bill Buckner, the man who let the ball go through his legs,’ and you never got to know the guy for who he really is.
“Getting to play this game has really opened my eyes to what players put themselves through. In the minor leagues, there were guys that worked harder than I did, but maybe didn’t have the natural talent that I did and they were released. They worked hard and were good people, but they didn‘t make it. It’s funny how the game works sometimes. When it comes right down to it, I cheer for the individual player.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.