Embracing Our Inner Bautista

Canada's baseball bad boy

By Kristoffer Pedlar

Bautista | Photo by  Keith Allison

Bautista | Photo by Keith Allison

You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
— Harvey Dent

It’s beginning to smell like baseball in this country. The temperature is on the rise, crocuses are starting to appear in my front yard and the Toronto Blue Jays are back playing games that matter. That should be enough to put a smile on anyone’s face. 

For Blue Jays fans it was a long and challenging off-season. First, we had to get over the tough end to our postseason run, then we had to watch the Boston Red Sox go “all in” during the off-season and land Chris Sale while we simultaneously said goodbye to fan favourite Edwin Encarnacion.  It was tough. 

Still, the Jays have an incredible pitching staff, solid looking bullpen and will probably hit a lot of dingers.

We also have Jose freaking Bautista!  

Joey Bats | Photo by  Keith Alison

Joey Bats | Photo by Keith Alison

Jose Bautista is back in Toronto where he has carried this team for the last 9 years and hopes to carry them and the entire country to that elusive championship. There are a plethora of reasons why his return with the club should get you excited for the season whether you’re a casual fan or a long-time die-hard.  It just makes so much sense. Whether it’s his home run power, ability to sell merchandise, high OBP, clear bounce back potential, high baseball IQ, or just familiarity, Bautista offers this team a little bit of everything.  

Jose is also unquestionably one of the most popular athletes ever to play for the city, but he remains a polarizing figure in the baseball world even at the best of times.  His infamous bat flip during the 2015 ALDS upset a lot of traditional baseball people and the “swagger” he exudes on the field doesn’t endear him to opposing teams or their fans.  

This winter Dan Duquette, Executive-VP of Baseball Operations for the Orioles, went so far as to say they couldn’t sign a player of Bautista’s demeanor.  

“I told him (the agent), ‘look our fans don’t really like Jose Bautista…the guy’s a villain in Baltimore.”

This perception of Bautista is not unique to Baltimore either, where he was booed heavily every time he came to the plate this week in the Opening Series of the season. In Texas, site of the infamous punch to the face courtesy of Roughned Odor, Bautista is booed heavily as well. Boston, New York, Cleveland, you name it, it’s all the same.  Fans outside of Toronto do not like him.  Whatever the reason, fans, opposing managers and some players, still have issues with Bautista for that bat flip. 

Or maybe it’s more than that. 

While much of the hate stems from the fact that Jose is just a damn good ball player and has often gotten the better of opposing teams, it also stems from the fact that he is a very confident person and not particularly shy about sharing his opinion or emotions.  He’s gotten into it on the field with many people. Whether famous jawing matches with Orioles manager Buck Showalter or Adam Jones, Darren O’Day, Roughned Odor, and the list continues.  Bautista seems to have many enemies in this game because of the way he conducts himself on the field. 

But he’s okay with that.   

Jose said this after an emotional tilt with those same Orioles in 2015,  “I’m an emotional player, I play with a lot of passion, you throw at me, I’m not going to forget…If I get you right after then I’m going to enjoy it. And I did. I’ve got no regrets about it.” 

High Five | Photo by  Keith Allison

High Five | Photo by Keith Allison

So how did one of the most universally disliked players in all of Major League Baseball end up becoming the biggest star in the game north of the border? 

The fit (in Toronto) is not an obvious one. I mean, admit it, if Jose Bautista was on any other team you likely wouldn’t even like him, let alone cheer for him. He’s cocky, he’s brash and he isn’t afraid to tell it like he sees it.  He argues with umpires, speaks highly of his own abilities and isn’t afraid to flip his bat every now and then. But somehow this animated anti-hero has managed to adorn himself to the country of Canada like few athletes in history.  

He is not only the face of the Blue Jays but is quite possibly the face of sports in this country. Other than say, Sidney Crosby, is there a more instantly recognizable face in all of Canadian sports than that of the Jays Right Fielder? 

Cereal Box Hitting | Photo by  Exile on Ontario St

Cereal Box Hitting | Photo by Exile on Ontario St

Bautista is responsible for the most memorable hit in franchise history since Joe Carter touched ‘em all in 1993.  He ended 20 years of suffering for longtime fans and gave the city and country of Canada a reason to cheer the Blue Jays again. For that alone, he’ll drink for free in this town for life. He’s an icon, a legend, a hero. Basically, he can do no wrong with this fan base and bringing him back this offseason, albeit on a shorter term deal, was a slam dunk move for the Blue Jays front office.  

On the surface, Bautista appears to be the exact opposite of what Canadians project to the rest of the world; a talent unlikely to connect with a Canadian audience. We are stereotypically known for maple syrup, Ryan Gosling and apologizing profusely when we feel we’ve done wrong. We have historically cheered for ‘good guys’ like Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby and Steve Nash who are known for their squeaky clean images.   But while Jose may not project the ideal image of a Canadian athlete on the field he truly epitomizes the inner feelings of the average Canadian.  

We are awesome.  Our health care is awesome. Our beer is awesome, our sense of humour, our music, our culture. We are cleaner, healthier, better looking and more respected than the majority of the world.  We know it, we just don’t brag about it.  It’s not who we are.  But we’d really like to.  We’d like to let others know how amazing we are, especially our good friends to the south, but we don’t for some reason. We just keep it buried deep down. 

Bat Flip Tee | Photo by Kristoffer Pedlar

Bat Flip Tee | Photo by Kristoffer Pedlar

And that’s what makes Canadians love Jose. He doesn’t keep it bottled up.  He tells it like it is. He isn’t afraid to say what is true in his heart and he’s confident in himself. And rightfully so. He’s a damn fine ball player. He’s proud of who he is and his accomplishments and isn’t afraid to tell anyone who’s listening. Isn’t that what we all wish we could let ourselves be? Or maybe we already are. 

While our country isn’t known for overtly confident gestures like bat flips or walking with swagger or openly questioning the decisions of authority figures like umpires, maybe we should be.  We should be flipping bats in hospitals to celebrate our health care, or in immigration offices as we welcome people into our country from all walks of life, or maybe at weddings every time two people who love each other get married.  Canada is awesome and we shouldn’t be shy about showing how great we are or being proud of our greatness.   

Jose Bautista is in many ways the physical representation of how we Canadians view ourselves internally.  We don’t overtly show our confidence, but it’s there.  His popularity in this country is not a mistake and while he may be considered a villain in many other ballparks around the league, he will forever be a hero here.  We like him, just as he is. 

Hitting for Canada's Team | Photo by  Keith Alison

Hitting for Canada's Team | Photo by Keith Alison

He also isn’t really that bad a guy off the field. Jose financially supports and mentors student athletes in his native Dominican Republic and here in Canada through his organization The Bautista Family Education Fund. He is actively involved in the Jays Care Foundation and recently visited with young fans at the Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. 

So while other around the league may boo him every time he gets a hit, pimps a homer or takes his time rounding the bases, he is ours.  Bautista is a perfect hero for Canada, one that exudes the emotion, passion, and self-confidence that many of us feel inside.  He is a perfect fit for this team, this city, and this country.

And hey, everybody secretly loves the bad guy.