Bautista returns to cheers from Blue Jays fans

 New York Mets RF Jose Bautista acknowledges the cheers following a two-minute video shown by the Blue Jays before Tuesday's game at Rogers Centre. Photo: Nick Turchiaro/USA Today.

New York Mets RF Jose Bautista acknowledges the cheers following a two-minute video shown by the Blue Jays before Tuesday's game at Rogers Centre. Photo: Nick Turchiaro/USA Today.

Jose Bautista reflects back on his time in Toronto as he makes long-awaited return

By Cole Shelton
Canadian Baseball Network

The numbers are gaudy: 1,235 games, 288 home runs, 766 RBIs, a .253 batting average and an .878 OPS -- that's what Jose Bautista did in Toronto while he was a Blue Jay. 

Well, one of the best ever to play in Toronto left this past off-season and is now in New York with the Mets and on Tuesday ‘Joey Bats’ returned. 

“It feels great, like nothing has changed,” said Bautista told reporters before the game. “It is a good feeling to be back. Obviously, a lot of emotions and a lot of memories. Glad to be able to enjoy those.”

Bautista came to Toronto as a relative unknown, who couldn’t gain regular playing time with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Yet, when he became a Blue Jay something clicked. Bautista became one of the best hitters in baseball and was an instant fan favourite. Even with the Blue Jays being a bad team, fans still came out to see Bautista in person. 

“He was one of the most prepared guys I’ve been around, there’s no doubt about that,” said manager John Gibbons about Bautista. “He brought a great intensity. He showed up every day expecting to play, wanting to play, because I think he knew it was his obligation, people wanted to see him play.”

After years of Toronto not being a legitimate playoff contender, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos decided to go for it. Go for it he did. Anthopoulos went out and acquired R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and others. The main reason the Blue Jays decided to go for it was because of Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion and them being two of the best hitters in the game. 

Well, with this new core Toronto made the playoffs in 2015 and Bautista’s star began to grow even more when he hit a huge home run in the seventh inning of the fifth and deciding Game 5 of the American League Division Series. Not only did Bautista break the tie, he emphatically flipped his bat -- as in take that --  and that became one of the most iconic moments in Blue Jays history.

However, even after Bautista doing all of this, he began to struggle in the field and was plagued by injuries. Even with Bautista struggling he still was a fan favourite but that didn’t matter as following the 2017 season Toronto let him walk as a free agent. 

During that offseason, Bautista did not get much interest but finally, his former boss Anthopoulos called to sign him to a minor-league deal with the Atlanta Braves. However, that did not work out as planned and Bautista was released but was quickly snatched up by the Mets.

Now, almost nine months after his last at-bat in Toronto, Bautista is returning, this time sitting in the visitor’s dugout. Even though Bautista is no longer a member on the Blue Jays, Toronto fans have long memories. The fan favourite and was given a tribute video by before the game and a standing ovation before his at-bat in the first inning, a five-pitch walk. 

It wouldn’t be a Bautista game thought without a play in the field and he made a diving catch to end the second retiring Russell Martin earning a standing ovation from Jays fans. When Bautista stepped into the batter’s box, Martin tapped Bautista on the leg with his mitt. The Jays scoreboard room played Usher’s “OMG,” before his first at bat, like the old days. 

Ultimately, Bautista did what was asked of him as he finished 1-for-2 with three walks in his return, raising his average to .223 and his on-base average to .387.

Even with his Blue Jays career over, Bautista is still is proud of everything he did in Toronto as a player, but for what his favourite moment was, the outfielder can’t decide. 

“Just the length of time that I have been here and everything that happened,” added Bautista. “It is hard to pinpoint one or two moments. Obviously, the playoff runs are great, the life experiences, the friendships, everything else that comes with it. I don’t think you can single out a few moments out on the field, that would be unfair.”

In his return to Rogers Centre, the Blue Jays defeated Bautista and the Mets 8-6. 

“Great to be recognized, great to acknowledge the fans and great to know they feel good I’m back and wanted to recognize me,” Bautista told reporters after the game.

Bautista was charged with a two-base error in the seventh when Randal Grichuk’s single skipped past him and rolled to the wall. Bautista charged the one hopper with plans of throwing Grichuk at first. 

“It was a good one to make an attempt,” said Bautista, “but the ball bounced a little higher than expected.”

Nonetheless, for most fans, it wasn’t about the final score, it was about seeing Bautista back in Toronto and remembering all the good things he accomplished for the franchise.