Jose Bautista reflects on path to level of excellence with Blue Jays

By Tim Wharnsby, The Canadian Press

Jose Bautista feels the 2015 and 2016 Toronto Blue Jays seasons provided the most joy in his highlight-filled career. However, eight years later, the way the 2015 American League Championship Series ended against the Kansas City Royals still stings.

In advance of Bautista being added to the Blue Jays’ level of excellence this weekend, the retired slugger reflected on his 10-year path in Toronto during a media conference call on Tuesday.

“When I look back, 2015 is the one that kind of slipped away,” admitted Bautista, who is now 42 and resides in his Tampa Bay-area home, dedicating his time to being a devoted full-time father to his four daughters.

“Because of all the additions we made at that deadline, we caught fire in the second half after hovering around .500. We won a ridiculous amount of games in the second half.

“In 2016, we had a lot of guys banged up. In having conversations with guys in the past, we had a better chance [in 2015]. So that’s the one everybody was a little more disappointed at the end. But we enjoyed it. Those were the two most fun years of playing baseball in my whole life.”

The bat flip seen ’round the world

Trailing in the ALCS 3 games to 2, Bautista hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning to tie Game 6 at 3-3 with his second round-tripper that day. But the Royals scored the go-ahead running in the bottom of the inning.

In the ninth, the Blue Jays put runners on first and third with none out. But they failed to cash in the tying run, with the game ending on a Josh Donaldson groundout to third.

In the previous series against the Texas Rangers, Bautista slammed his memorable three-run homer in the seventh inning of Game 6 to put Toronto in front 6-3 for good to the deciding game.

Jose Bautista

Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista watches his solo home run against the Kansas City Royals during the fourth inning in Game 6 of baseball’s American League Championship Series on Friday, Oct. 23, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS.

Before he began his trot around the bases, Bautista flipped his bat, much to the dismay of the Rangers.

A Bautista bobblehead figure, capturing this memorable moment in Blue Jays history, will be presented to fans entering Rogers Centre on Saturday.”

“It’s been almost 10 years, surprisingly, and I’ve had a lot of conversations and done a lot of interviews and chatted with fans about it,” said Bautista, whose bat from the moment was lying a few feet away in his home office as he talked about the homer. “It’s a great memory. It’s a great moment, and ultimately, I think that’s why we play the sport, to create great memories through the entertainment that we provide as a form of entertainment.”

Bautista a fan favourite in Toronto

Bautista arrived in Toronto from Pittsburgh in a trade that sent Robinzon Diaz to the Pirates. The 15th anniversary of the deal is on Aug. 21, a trade the Blue Jays made due to a shoulder injury suffered by future Hall of Famer Scott Rolen.

Bautista went on to represent the Blue Jays in six all-star games. He set the single-season franchise record with 54 home runs in 2010 to lead Major League Baseball and also slammed an MLB- leading 43 homers in 2011.

Only Hall of Famer Carlos Delgado, with 336, has hit more homers in Blue Jays history than Bautista’s 288.

In his 15-year career (2004-2018), Bautista belted 344 home runs, 975 runs batted in, and 1,496 hits, having also played for Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Baltimore, New York Mets, Atlanta and Philadelphia.

Bautista concluded he is most proud of being part of a group that pushed the Blue Jays back into a contender. Until 2015, Toronto had not been in the post-season since its back-to-back World Series championship in 1993.

“We were able as a group to revive the love for the franchise that exists not only in Toronto but all throughout Canada,” Bautista said.

“At the time of my exit, 10 years later, it had, in my view, grown significantly.”

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