You’ll hear media folks say all the time that Spring Training is the ideal place to really get to know ballplayers, and to really get the best out of your interviews with them. They’re not yet obsessively focused on the task at hand, or full-on fighting waves of frustration, trying not to get caught in a season’s worth of undertow. The atmosphere is casual — so casual that the team will even let scums like me take a media pass for a couple days to mash out blog posts from the bowels of the stadium, and wander around essentially unencumbered to do whatever they (or, let’s be honest, I) figure my job is supposed to be!
This was the case in the spring of 2013, when some friends and I took some time out from a trip to watch the Daytona 500 to shoot across the state and check out a few games of the Blue Jays, who had just finished winning the off-season, having traded for R.A. Dickey, a bunch of Miami Marlins, and having signed Melky Cabrera to boot.
For those of you who’ve never done it, I can tell you that it’s a bit disorienting going to the ballpark of a press pass for the first time, especially in such a casual environment. You’re governed only by how far you’re willing to push your curiosity. I remember dealing with some very nice ladies at the security desk, making my way to some sort of a work room, setting up my computer while listening to Barry Davis deny his camera man and editor an off day, then working up the courage to actually head out to the field, mostly just hoping not to get in anybody’s way. That sort of thing was of special concern to me because, as a member of the scum set, I knew there were people around who knew who I was, and I really didn’t feel the need to run afoul of them more than I already had over the previous five years of calling so many of them shitty hacks.
The fears were unfounded, it turns out; at one point, after I’d managed to sidle up to a group of friendlies like Wilner and Gregor and Scotty Mac and Benny Fresh (I think), along came Steve Simmons — who I’m pretty sure was wearing socks with sandals and a fanny pack (though that might just be how I prefer to remember it) — who walked up, sort of looked me and us up and down, and then shuffled away without a word. LOL!
Before all that, though, I remember finally working up the courage to go stumble into the light of day, and that one of the first things I saw when exiting main building down the right field line were a couple of Josés — Bautista and Reyes — just… right there… getting some pictures taken before doing a segment for Japanese TV or something. It was a bit surreal, to tell you the honest truth. And it was around Bautista and Reyes and the Japanese TV people — if my foggy-ass memory has this right — that I chatted for a long while with another relative greenhorn — at least as far the ins and out of Florida Auto Exchange Stadium were concerned.
It was a relief to find a friendly face, even if it was a stranger, and it turned out that Trevor Cole was working on a feature on Bautista for Toronto Life. I’m not sure where he was in the process at that point, or even why we started talking to each other except for not knowing anybody else at the time, but I definitely remember him telling me about having interviewed Bautista, and having to do it again, and about how generous he’d been with his time and how he maybe wasn’t what you’d expect, given his reputation at the time for orneriness outbursts with umpires.
The piece turned out great, as you can read from the copy archived on his personal website, and I couldn’t help but think fondly of that day when Trevor shared a story that didn’t quite make it into his final text during Sunday’s big send-off for Bautista…
I wrote a big story about Jose Bautista a few years ago for @torontolife magazine. He gave me a lot of time. And he did something …/1— Trevor Cole (@trevor_cole) September 24, 2017
I’ve told very few people about. At the end of our fourth interview session, I asked Jose for a favor. I did it in case I needed ...— Trevor Cole (@trevor_cole) September 24, 2017
a bit of colour for the story. Turned out I couldn’t fit this moment into the piece, but it has stayed with me as an example of Jose’s /3— Trevor Cole (@trevor_cole) September 24, 2017
warm, human side.— Trevor Cole (@trevor_cole) September 24, 2017
The background for this is that a few years before, my sister had adopted a young baby from Mexico. She wanted her to /4
have the Spanish language in her life, so she learned Spanish and tried to speak it to her as often as possible. /5— Trevor Cole (@trevor_cole) September 24, 2017
When I was doing this story on Jose, it was coming up to my niece’s 4th birthday. So I asked Jose to tell me how to say something nice /6— Trevor Cole (@trevor_cole) September 24, 2017
to her in Spanish, to celebrate her birthday. I expected a phrase, a short sentence at most.— Trevor Cole (@trevor_cole) September 24, 2017
Jose took my notebook and wrote out /7
an entire paragraph for my niece, in Spanish, so I could tell her how much our family loved her and wished her happiness on her birthday. /8— Trevor Cole (@trevor_cole) September 24, 2017
Then he recited it out loud, so that I could record it, and practice it, and say it to her.— Trevor Cole (@trevor_cole) September 24, 2017
It was a tremendously sweet thing for him to do. At the height of his stardom. Just a lovely gesture. I’ll always be grateful.— Trevor Cole (@trevor_cole) September 24, 2017
Amazing, touching stuff. And pitch perfect to have ended up in our Twitter feeds during Sunday’s celebration of this generation’s greatest Blue Jay. There will never be another José Bautista.