Jason Lane, former outfielder, played for the Houston Astros for six seasons. He contributed as an outfielder to the team that won the National League Championship and became the first Texas MLB team to appear in the World Series. Five years after leaving the Astros, Lane changed jobs, no longer patrolling the outfield grass. He became a pitcher, and now at age 38, he continues to pursue a major league dream.
Lane was with Houston from 2002-2007; most of it part-time, other than the championship season of 2005 when he played 145 games, primarily in right field. That year, he hit 26 home runs (tied for 2nd on the team), drove in 78 runs (3rd), had 34 doubles, 4 triples, and batted .267, a solid performer for the Astros in their World Series year.
By 2006, he slumped to .201 with 15 home runs, and again spent time between Houston and Triple-A Round Rock, as a succession of players manned right field at Minute Maid Park.
The Astros traded him to the San Diego Padres in September 2007, and he became a free agent that winter. Over the next three years, Lane had chances with the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Marlins, but he spent the majority of those seasons in the minors.
“There were a lot of times when it didn’t look so good. I just kept grinding and for it to work out like this is pretty cool.”
“It’s frustrating when you do all you can and they just don’t have room for you,” said Lane in a 2009 Las Vegas Sun story by Brett Okamoto.
He decided to make a major adjustment; a radical change that prolonged his career. When he signed a minor league contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011, it was as a pitcher. Lane had pitched some in high school and college at USC, and feeling that he had the arm to handle the position, devoted his time to becoming a hurler.
After Spring Training in 2012, Arizona let him go and he signed with the Sugar Land Skeeters in the independent Atlantic League. His performance as a full time pitcher earned him team MVP honors; at 36 years old, Lane was starting all over at a new position and it was beginning to pay off.
His success with the Skeeters earned him a minor league contract with San Diego, first at Triple-A Tucson in 2013, and then when the Padres moved their top farm club to El Paso in 2014.
Lane pitched well enough with the Chihuahuas to earn a call-up on June 3, when he pitched in relief and retired all ten Pittsburgh Pirates batters he faced, striking out three. He was sent back to El Paso when starter Andrew Cashner returned from the disabled list.
“The more I think about it, I start getting a little emotional,” said Lane in an MLB.com story by Will Laws. “There were a lot of times when it didn’t look so good. I just kept grinding and for it to work out like this is pretty cool.”
Then in late July, the Padres called again, this time giving Lane his first MLB start on the mound on July 28 against the Braves. He pitched six strong innings, giving up six hits, including a home run to Evan Gattis. He struck out two with no walks, and even got a hit in the loss.
“It’s a little frustrating to make a mistake like that,” Lane said of the home run, in an Associated Press story on ESPN.com. “There’s not a lot of room for error. And it cost me.”
Lane pitched well in his two appearances for San Diego: 10 1/3 innings, seven hits, six strikeouts, and no walks. Unfortunately, the Padres had other needs, and on July 29, Lane returned to the Pacific Coast League.
Never one to give up, Lane remains confident.
“I got a great opportunity to try and pitch for someone that believed in me.” Lane said in the story by Laws.
Lane is expected to return to El Paso for another season as a pitcher in 2015. He is one of only a few from that 2005 Astros World Series team still in professional baseball, and we imagine his attitude hasn’t changed about the game. As he said back in 2009 in the Las Vegas Sun story:
“I’ve just got to keep playing baseball, I feel grateful to still be playing.”
Astros fans can be grateful for the contributions Lane made to the most exciting season in Houston history. They can also appreciate his desire to continue a career while making the drastic change from the outfield to the mound. At age 38, Lane is still chasing the dream.