Before Blue Jays fans were treated to a magical 2015 season, a large chunk of them had followed the team so long without getting a taste of anything resembling competitive baseball. For years, anybody under the age of 25 was around long enough to be battle tested, but not enough so to have been able to witness the glory days. Instead, they lived vicariously through the stories of any baseball fan older than them to the point where they knew exactly where their family and friends were the moment Joe Carter hit that Mitch Williams offering over the left field wall at the SkyDome in 1993.
Let me get personal on this one: I was born in 1993 and have been a fan of this godforsaken team my entire life. For me, competitive Blue Jays baseball only occurred during the home opener, and then in the coming weeks, we checked the “Games Back” column less and less until we found better things to do with our summers than care about the outcome of games. Imagine that; two decades of expecting virtually nothing from your team, not even a playoff game.
Then, along came a guy that seemed bigger than the game, and not in ways that his critics mean. Jose Bautista went from just a guy traded for Robinzon Diaz to the guy traded for Robinzon Diaz. The minor leaguer turned into a king, and we were his loyal followers. Every time he stepped on the field, we witnessed greatness.
He amassed a collection of greatest hits, unforgettable moments that only Jose Bautista could make legendary. With his spats between him and Darren O’Day, Steve Simmons, the Texas Rangers, or pretty much anybody else that hated fun, Bautista gave you raw emotion, and didn’t care what you thought about it. In an age where everything on the field is captured and shared instantly, Jose Bautista gave you organic and genuine reaction that couldn’t be duplicated.
In that 2015 season, with all eyes – and pressure – on the team up north, Jose was there. He hit 41 bombs over the season and was a main factor in a terrifying lineup that tracked down the Yankees and made up eight games in less than a month.
In Game 1 of the 2015 ALDS, the first playoff game of his career just ten days before his 35th birthday, Jose was there, smacking a Keone Kela fastball into the centre field seats.
Days later in the seventh inning of a controversial Game 5, Jose was there, sending the fans at Rogers Centre into a frenzy while probably singlehandedly preventing a riot with his go-ahead three-run home run and the ensuing bat flip, an iconic moment that will forever be remembered in Canadian sports history.
In Game 6 of the 2015 ALCS with the Blue Jays backs against the wall, Jose Bautista was the only one there, something he was unfortunately accustomed to.
And a few years after he ultimately decides to say goodbye to the game, you can bet that Jose Bautista will be there, when the Blue Jays decide to immortalize his name on the Level of Excellence.
What’s crazy about his ride in Toronto was that Bautista didn’t need those playoff moments in 2015-2016 to cement his status as an all time Blue Jay, he was already one.
He hit 54 home runs in 2010 and followed that up with 43 in 2011. Amid rumors that he was using to get an advantage, he kept on slugging, becoming one of the most feared hitters in the game.
But the numbers can easily be Googled and speak for themselves. What can’t be described with a slash line or a simple wRC+ was what he meant to Blue Jays fans. No number could ever tell you that with Jose Bautista, even the most boring Blue Jays teams had a chance. With 19 in the lineup, the not cared about Blue Jays at least had a shred of relevance.
He gave Blue Jays fans a reason to watch, a reason to pay attention, a reason to care. His passion brought a lifeless and mediocre franchise the attention that it didn’t get since the early 90s, all by doing everything his way and not giving a fuck what anybody thought. He made us laugh, cry, and see red with him.
Who could have known that the man that was accused of not playing the game the right way actually was the blueprint to professionalism? All the fire he brought was strictly baseball related. No off field antics, no positive steroid tests, nothing. He commanded attention from even his haters and the respect of his rivals.
Sure, he was swung at once, but Blue Jays fans should feel better that in those years, he gave us reason to celebrate more than a shitty replacement player on a championshipless team ever could. And on top of that, we don’t have to live with defending and glorifying a player supposedly in their prime that can’t produce at the plate to save his life.
Selfish. Attention seeking. Overrated. Call him whatever you want, but he made you watch. He made you feel real things in a sport that’s currently begging for that. Fuck a pitch clock or funky uniforms, we need more guys that can make you do that.
We grew up hearing the stories about guys like Stieb, Bell, Fernandez, and WAMCO, and now, our generation now has a man to tell future generations about. A guy that was the closest thing to baseball fairy tale, going from passed around between terrible teams to becoming Canadian and Dominican baseball royalty. The Joey Bats show was a spectacle in Toronto.
I’ll never forget sneaking out of my math class and going home early for lunch to watch Bautista’s first at-bat in a September game against the Mariners in 2010. Bautista was sitting on 49 home runs and I couldn’t believe it when number 50 landed in the Blue Jays bullpen. My jubilation in that moment was almost as high as the level of disbelief I had at the Rogers Centre on October 14th, 2015, when Bautista sent the city of Toronto into a drunken frenzy. I didn’t even notice the bat flip because I was watching that ball exit in a hurry, completely in awe at the king somehow finding a way to outdo himself.
Baseball is obviously a big part of my life, and two of my fondest memories involve a bearded number 19 playing right field for the Toronto Blue Jays.
There will hopefully be many more good players to step onto the Rogers Centre field with that blue bird on their hat, but I assure you there will not be another Jose Antonio Bautista.
Thanks for the memories.