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Jaso hopes to get back in big leagues

1:03 PM, Mar 31, 2009   |    comments
Tampa Bay Rays catcher John Jaso, seen here playing for the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits in 2007.
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PORT CHARLOTTE, Florida -- John Jaso fidgets in his chair on the minor-league side of the Tampa Bay Rays' spring complex, eagerly hoping to soon take a second bite of the major-league life.

Jaso, who started last season with the Montgomery Biscuits, ended it in the big leagues. Now, he's back in the minors and will start the year at Triple-A Durham, but what he remembers of the big leagues has given him added inspiration.

"Everything they say about it is true," Jaso said. "It is hard work and everybody has to put in their time down here, but once you get that taste, you don't want to be here anymore."

Jaso fully admits he didn't expect to make his major-league debut last September.

Content with finishing at Triple-A Durham, Jaso was at an end-of-season team party when Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo called him aside. The catcher, who hit .278 in 31 games at Durham, wasn't sure what Montoyo wanted.

"He just said, 'Jaso, I've got something to tell you,'" Jaso said. "I was like, 'Oh, OK.' 'You're going to the big leagues, man.'"

Jaso debuted with the Rays on Sept. 6. He played in just five games as the Rays finished off an American League East championship.

Jaso picked up his first hit Sept. 15 and has the ball and lineup card at home in California to prove it. That night also was a way of saying goodbye to his grandfather.

Michael Bajo was 90 years old when he died a few weeks later.

"Before the season, he said he wanted to see me in the big leagues before he died," Jaso said. "He was in the hospital, but he saw me on TV and he saw my first hit."

Jaso wasn't able to attend the funeral, but Tampa Bay excused him from a road series to visit Bajo on his deathbed.

"I got to talk to him and all that stuff," Jaso said. "That was really special because we were close."

Jaso has also enjoyed some humorous times since leaving Montgomery after last year's Southern League All-Star Game.

He reached the Rays in time to take part in the team's annual rookie hazing, which also included Andy Sonnanstine, Fernando Perez and Evan Longoria.

Jaso found a skimpy "flower child/hippy" costume in his locker -- and no other civilian clothes -- for a trip to New York. The group also had to sing in front of the bus.

Upon arriving in New York, the team made an early bus stop, leaving the rookies with a 2 a.m., two-block, in-costume walk to their hotel. The walk went without incident.

"We had strength in numbers," Jaso said.

More importantly, Jaso felt he made a good impression in his abbreviated major-league time and feels his defense, a past question mark, has improved. Time this winter playing in Venezuela and more time in major-league camp this spring helped.

"I think I've been improving year by year," Jaso said. "My ear is always open to new things. I think there's always room for me to improve."

A. Stacy Long, The Montgomery Advertiser

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