Rays fans who remember John Jaso know that he was not only an excellent hitter, but also a thoughtful and sometimes offbeat guy whose most recent Tropicana Field experiences involved getting kicked out by an usher.
As it turns out, his grandfather was also a pretty special person — a smart and talented young man who gave up professional baseball to use his talents in a different way.
Born on September 8th, 1919 in East Chicago, Indiana, Michael David Bajo was a gifted student, both academically and athletically, at St. Procopius University in Lisle, Illinois. Bajo began his career in professional baseball in 1941, right as the United States was on the cusp of war.
During the 1941 season, Bajo played within the Chicago White Sox organization, where he spent time behind the plate and on the mound for the Saginaw White Sox and the Waterloo Hawks.
After that season, Bajo hung up his cleats and decided to pursue his true passion of medicine. Bajo enrolled in Loyola Medical School and received his MD in 1944. He then enlisted in the United States Navy and became a medical officer assigned to the USS Dobbins, a destroyer that was stationed in the Pacific.
Prior to Bajo’s enlistment and subsequent assignment, the USS Dobbins had been at Pearl Harbor when Japan launched its surprise attack on the morning of December 7th, 1941, thrusting the United States into World War 2. The Dobbins received minimal damage during the attack and eventually proceeded to the Pacific Theater where she took part in more action.
During Bajo’s time on the ship, she was mostly stationed near New Guinea before being moved to the Philippines where she would remained until the war’s conclusion. Once the war was over, Bajo was still in the military, stationed in San Diego. He remained there, working at Mercy Hospital, which is where he would meet an army nurse and his future wife, Sarah Warn.
After a few years of marriage, the medical couple was ready for the next endeavor.
The Bajos moved just a bit south to the San Ysidros, a small town just south of San Diego. On the map, it’s the area that is immediately north of the border between Mexico and the United States. Prior to World War II, the area was a small hamlet, but with a population boom underway and housing in short supply, San Ysidro was beginning to bubble up into a city. When Michael and Sarah opened their medical practice, it was the first of its kind in the San Ysidros community. Previously, residents, many poor, simply hadn’t had access to medical care.
To the Bajo’s, however, this was no problem, as they refused to turn away patients and there are even instances in which they’d accept trades as a form of payment. So they might come home one day with a chicken or a basket of oranges in exchange for a medical exam.
Dr Michael Bajo’s practice would continue to serve the San Ysidros community for the next 55 years; along the way, he helped to deliver over 11,00 babies. In 1988, Bajo was recognized for his services and named the San Diego Physician of the year (San Ysidros was annexed by San Diego in 1973). During their life together, the Bajos welcomed 15 children of their own into the world and the family continue to grow with 41 grandchildren.
One of those 41 was a kid named John Jaso.
According to Jaso, after Bajo became a doctor, he would constantly receive and constantly reject offers to return to professional baseball. Although Bajo likely dreamed of playing the big leagues, his true passion was to help his fellow man and for over five decades, Bajo did just that. According to Jaso:
“My grandfather played pro ball before he became a doctor, and he was always asked to keep playing, they’d send train tickets and tell him to come. All I did was play baseball with him, and it helped - I think he lived his dream through me a little bit,”
However, he did still take time to enjoy America’s pastime and would take his kids and grandkids to see the San Diego Padres in action.
Years later, after Jaso had been drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays, Bajo had just one last wish as life was nearing its end, and that was to see John Jaso play Major League Baseball.
“And all he wanted was to see me get to the big leagues.”
Jaso did all he could to fulfill that wish as he torched the minors. His offensive capabilities were undeniable, but his defensive shortcomings were holding him back. Nevertheless, Jaso would be promoted to the big league roster in early September 2008.
John Jaso made his debut on September 6th, just in time. On September 15th, Jaso recorded his first big league hit, and on September 26th, at the age of 89 years old, Michael Bajo passed away.
“He was living what he loved through me. He saw me get to the big leagues and then signed off.”