Jase Turner PO ’05, recently inducted to the Pomona-Pitzer Hall of Fame, didn’t take a traditional path to professional baseball. Instead of playing at a big-name power school, Turner chose to attend Pomona College, a relative unknown in college baseball.
After a stint in the minor leagues, Turner had the chance to continue to play baseball in an independent league. But thanks to his education, he knew he had better options.
“That wasn’t how I wanted to continue chasing the dream,” he said. “And I was tired of being broke, and so I had other aspirations, which is why I [originally] went to Pomona instead of going to another type of school.”
Turner was originally selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the MLB draft following his senior year of high school, and considered forgoing college entirely. But the fit wasn’t right.
“For me, it was a financial discernment,” he said. “If they had offered me enough money that made it worthwhile to think about not going to college right away, then I was willing to consider. But they didn’t come with that type of a financial offer. So it made my decision pretty easy.”
Turner had to be sure, however, because once a player enters a four-year institution, they cannot be drafted again until after their junior year. He could have opted to attend community college and would have been eligible for selection every year.
“But that wasn’t my focus academically, so that wasn’t an option for me,” Turner said. “My plan and my goal was definitely to play professional baseball … And so I was really hoping to get drafted my junior year, and I got a lot of attention, and got a lot of special-type workouts, and it just didn’t work out.”
Because he spent college summers playing in high-level travel ball leagues with mostly Division I athletes, however, his efforts did not go unnoticed. And once you’re on the league’s radar for the draft, you’re “in the system,” Turner said.
After graduating from Pomona, he was picked by the Kansas City Royals in the 27th round.
But the decision to finish school proved prudent, as Turner’s professional baseball career was short-lived. He played two seasons of rookie ball in Idaho Falls, then one at Class A Burlington before being released.
“I didn’t know what to expect [of the minors], but it was definitely terrible. It was not nice at all,” he said. From 13-hour travel days that concluded with a game, to gas station dinners, to packing roommates into tiny apartment living rooms, Turner experienced it all.
But it was all worth it for a shot at that elusive “dream.”
“I mean, it was all the horror things that you could think about, which also led to this once-in-a-lifetime experience and opportunities, at the same time,” Turner said. Particularly, he loved the cultural education that came from playing with teammates from Panama, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
And it never mattered that he lacked a big-name sports school on his resumé.
Recently, between one and two percent of players selected in the MLB draft hail from Division III programs. In 2018, for instance, 11 DIII players were picked out of 1,214 total. The 2010 draft featured 22 players from DIII, the most ever.
Turner is one of eight Sagehens to be drafted over the past 25 years — most recently, Tanner Nishioka PO ’17 was picked in the ninth round by the Boston Red Sox following his senior year.
“To me, it was an honor to be able to go play professionally coming from Pomona because we’re not really known, obviously, for athletics, especially for professional athletes,” Turner said. “So it was cool being able to help put a small school on a map.”
Because of what he did academically in college, Turner was primed for the transition out of professional ball and back into education when the time came. As a senior, he worked as a teaching assistant at Condit Elementary in Claremont, which led to a career interest outside of baseball.
“The teacher that I worked with… she was great, and she gave me a ton of space to explore, and to help, and to connect with students,” he said. “And that was really my first time I thought working at schools is something that I really enjoy doing.”
Then, in his minor league off-seasons, Turner would go home to Oakland, California, and substitute teach.
“Basically I subbed, and then I trained, and that’s what I did every day, all day,” he said. “And so once I was released, I had had this three-year experience working in schools.”
He began his career in education as a middle school physical education teacher, advisor and dean at Oakland’s kindergarten through eighth grade Redwood Day School, all while pursuing his master’s degree. From there, he took a job at Bishop O’Dowd High School, also in Oakland, as an academic support coordinator.
“And then from there I was able to kind of keep moving up, so to say,” said Turner, now the school’s associate principal at 36 years old.
All the while, he’s continued to coach baseball on the side. Turner would advise his students and players to take a similar route, if only as a precaution.
“For many of my teammates that didn’t do well in school, or didn’t like school, or didn’t finish school, life after sports was really a challenging period of time,” he said. “And so just know that you’re not going to be playing a sport much longer than you are going to be playing a sport. So you want to set yourself up to have opportunities when that time comes, whether it’s senior year, or it’s college, or in your 20s or 30s.”