Toronto Blue Jays fans in Toronto made sure Jose Bautista got the send-off he deserved.
There are very few people nowadays who play professional sports that can be tied to just one team. Bautista, is one of the rare few.
You could tell Bautista loved it. He’s always loved Toronto. It was the city which made him a superstar in Major League Baseball. He had his chance to go elsewhere and with the numbers he put up in Toronto, he was a tradeable commodity.
But do you remember how Bautista came to Toronto in the first place?
Bautista was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2000 and was just another player who made up the numbers back then. He had literally bounced around the majors, making stops in Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Kansas City and the New York Mets. In fact, Bautista remains the only player in Major League Baseball history to have been in the starting line-up of five different teams in one season.
Bautista got demoted to AAA in August 2008 when the Pirates dealt him to Toronto for a player to be named later. That player ended up being Robinzon Diaz, a catcher who lasted all of 44 games in Major League Baseball.
Even in his first full season in Toronto in 2009, Bautista wasn’t a starter. The plan was to have him come off the bench to play third base and outfield. But, there were several moves that the Blue Jays made that season which finally led to Bautista becoming an everyday player. One move sticks out as the most important and it didn’t involve a player.
Dwayne Murphy was a roving hitting instructor with the Blue Jays and replaced Gene Tenace, who retired that season. Murphy has shown Bautista that high leg kick which we’ve come accustomed to seeing in every at-bat. September 2009 saw his best month in his career to date with 10 home runs.
2010 was his coming-out year as he broke George Bell’s Blue Jays record for most home runs in a season with 52 and the rest is history.
But among the home runs, hits and plays, Bautista will be remembered for one thing and one thing only.
The Bat Flip.
No need to tell you when it was because chances are you were watching the game or at least following it. I know I was. I was at home with my kids and trying to pay attention to the game.
That seventh inning against Texas in Game 5 remains the greatest, most exciting, most gripping inning of baseball I have ever watched.
It was a no-doubter and Bautista let everyone know about it. He didn’t even watch it leave the park. And there went the bat, one of the most iconic images in Blue Jays history.
Bautista was also a defensive powerhouse, his 77 outfield assists for putouts is a testament to that. He’s gunned down more than his share of runners looking for extra bases and let’s not forget his penchant for revenge home runs. More often than not, if he ever got thrown at or behind, Bautista would serve one up into the seats and take great delight at sticking it to the opposition. Take it from me – nothing feels better than trotting the bases and making sure the opposition knows you just stuck one up them.
Now, the headline suggests he may not have taken his final bow but it’s very likely he did. The team holds a contract option for the next two years – $18 million in 2018 and $20 million in 2019 – but, do you spend that much on a 37-year-old who isn’t getting any younger? It doesn’t make financial sense, but you never know. If he does come back, it may be for a lot less money and with a different role.
He will enter the Level of Excellence one day at the Dome and take his place among Bell, Carter, Dave Stieb, Cito Gaston and all of the other Blue Jays who, at one time in their career, made sure Jays fans had plenty to cheer about.
Bautista made sure they had plenty to cheer about and if it is over, it was fun to watch.