By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
It’s been said that a good man Pays it Forward ... like in the movie starring Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt.
Jose Bautista remembers his past and he pays it forward.
Bautista was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 1999. The agreed upon amount was $300,000 US but when the amount reached upstairs it was a thumbs down. Owner Marge Schott was in the midst of selling the team,
[Could you imagine if the Reds had signed Bautista? Then Bautista and Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) went on to hit back-to-back for a decade in the Cincinnati lineup?]
So here was Bautista talented enough to sign and owning marks high enough to get into a college in the United States. But financial help was needed. In stepped Donald Odermann, who helped place Latin players at American universities. Odermann made things click and off Bautista went to the Florida panhandle and Chipola College.
Odermann worked in the Peace Corps, “married a woman from Puerto Rico, understood our Latin culture and wanted to help,” Bautista told me in 2012. Odermann’s Latin Athletes Education Fund helped plenty of players get to school, get their degrees and some go to the pros, including a two-time major league home run leader in Bautista.
Now Bautista is doing what the late Odermann did.
There are names of 32 players with pictures on the Bautista’s Family Education Fund web site including INF Yan Carlo Rivera, the son of Blue Jays third base coach Luis Rivera. Most of the players are Latin.
And then there is 3B Nolan Bumstead (Calgary, Alta.) a senior with the NCAA Division I Cal-State Northridge Matadors.
“As far as his financial help, Jose Bautista’s foundation gives me money every semester since my freshman year and that helps with living expenses,” said Bumstead from inside the Matadors clubhouse this week in Northridge, Calif.
Bumstead heard about the Bautista Family Fund on a trip to Mexico with the Canadian Junior National Team in 2014 as it attempted to qualify for the World Cup. Teammate LHP Brad Smith (North Vancouver, BC) told him about the Bautista Fund.
Smith didn’t travel far, going to pitch for the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds in Vancouver.
[We had heard about Bautista helping a Toronto athlete financially with school expenses about three years ago. But when we asked the right fielder about it, he asked that we not write it, he was worried about embarrassing the player.]
“I investigated myself, contacted the fund, explained that I’m was an international electrical engineering student and would like some help,” Bumstead said. “The money makes it easier.”
The third baseman didn’t want to say how much financial help he had received from the Bautista Family Fund over the four years, which is only natural. Financial matters are personal matters.
Growing up in Calgary, Bumstead “kind of followed” the Boston Red Sox. He liked David Ortiz, who happens to be one of Bautista’s best friends. When Bautista was traded to the Jays in 2008 and “started hitting all those home runs, he drew a lot more direct attention to the Blue Jays.”
And his favorite player now?
“Jose Bautista,” he says quickly.
On the afternoon of Oct. 14, 2015, Bumstead and two buddies were in their off-campus apartment in Northridge. They were watching Game 5 of the best-of-five American League Division Series between the Texas Rangers and the Jays. Bumstead didn’t know it, Bautista didn’t know it and few of the 49,742 fans at Rogers Centre knew that a riot squad was marshalling at Queen’s Park after watching the crowd react to the way the Rangers scored in the top of the seventh to take the lead.
Then, the Rangers' bottom of the seventh from hades unfolded: an E-6, an E-3 and E-6 to load the bases. One out later and a misplayed pop tied the score and bring up Bautista with Ryan Goins and Josh Donaldson on base. Bautista hit a 1-1 pitch from Sam Dyson to left field, no-doubt distance and flipped the bat like no else has ever flipped a bat.
“My roommates, they were neutral,” Bumstead said. “I was cheering. I went wild ... a couple of fist pumps and some high fives. A play like that everyone gets excited.”
Bumstead has never met Bautista. His contact man is Fernando Isa, executive director of the Bautista Family fund, has been with the Foundations since Day I. And before that Isa and Bautista were roommates at Chipola.
“He played at the University of Louisville and still lives in Kentucky,” Bumstead said. “I think Jose and he were childhood friends.”
The Bautista Family Fund helped three student-athletes receive academic scholarships in 2012. The number jumped to 41 in 2016-17. The Fund has helped an average of 29 student-athletes per academic year since its formation.
This summer Bumstead hit .272 with 54 RBIs, 28 walks, 19 doubles and seven home runs with the Willmar Stingers of the Northwoods League. He also started in a Northwoods record 72 games, and helped lead his team to 41 wins and a playoff berth.
Last spring with the Matadors, Bumstead hit .302 with 11 doubles, four homers and 25 RBIs in 55 games for Cal State-Northridge, while compiling an .810 OPS. He has made the Canadian Baseball Network all-Canadian college ballot which goes out this week.
He led the team in batting and finished fifth with 25 RBIs while hitting .360 with 11 RBIs, seven doubles and a .506 slugging percentage in conference play, compiling 13 multiple-hit games reaching base safely in the final 17 games of the season. He posted a 14-game hitting streak during the year. His best games included: hitting a homer against Portland, having a hit and two RBIs in a win over UCLA, three RBIs with two hits and a homer against Holy Cross, double and drove in a run facing Purdue, hit a walk-off three-run home runs -- the first Matador in seven years to do so -- with two outs in the ninth against UC Santa Barbara, had a pair of hits facing No. 12 Long Beach State, homered in a win over Hawaii, had five hits and drove in three runs in the UC Irvine series, was 3-for-3 with a double in a win over CSU Bakersfield and had six hits and drove in two runs facing Cal Poly.
As a sophomore in 2016, he batted .247 with six doubles, a homer, 26 RBIs and a .616 OPS primarily playing third. As a freshman in 2015 he batted .284 with two homers and 17 RBIs mostly playing first base.
Few Canadians have been a Matador recently-- maybe fewer still without the help of the Bautista fund? Bumstead played for the Vauxhall Academy Jets in southern Alberta under coach Les McTavish.
“What happened was that Northridge hired a new coach in Greg Moore,” Bumstead said. “He came from University of San Francisco and Vauxhall sent Brendan Hendriks (Cochrane, Alta.) there. They liked him. So, Les had a connection.”
And this fall two more freshmen followed the Vauxhall-Junior National Team-Cal State pipeline south in LHP Wesley Moore (Surrey, BC) and C Victor Cerny (Winnipeg, Man.). Sounds like Bumstead is doing Canada proud or McTavish’s phone would not be ringing so often.
Growing up in Calgary, Bumstead played for the PF Redbirds and coach Jim Lawson.
“We never really had a guy until Michael Soroka, most of the better players either went to Vauxhall or Okotoks,” Bumstead said. RHP Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) is coming like a runaway train now going 11-8, with a 2.75 ERA with Double A Mississippi Braves as a teenager. Bumstead and Soroka are friends.
The most influential person in Bumstead’s baseball life?
“Les McTavish,” Bumstead said. “He took me on, I went down checked (Vauxhall) out one day and went from being a guy who was not super serious about playing to one who was. The answer would be Les and his coaches Joel Blake and Jim Kotkas.”
Bumstead says with a lot of seniors, he hopes the Matadors can advance from the Big West Conference into the NCAA post-season. Last spring both the Long Beach State Dirtbags and the Cal State Fullerton Titans from the Big West advanced.
Bumstead is asked what goals he has set for next spring.
“Personally I have goals,” he says, “but I’d like to set an example for the rest of the team. Hopefully in a few years someone will say ‘remember what Bumstead did when he was here?”
With a grade point average of 3.861 GPA he was named the male Enterprise Rent-A-Car Scholar-Athletes of the Year at the annual Varsity N Athletics Honor Roll Ceremony in 2016.
“I have to credit my coaches and my teammates, they all pushed me to excel in the classroom,” said Bumstead, who passed on wise advice for other Matadors, saying that it’s important to “take pride in your academics. At the end of the day, like Leslie Chang [the female winner] was saying, ‘you’re going to go pro in something other than your sport so take pride in it
He also was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District 8 Team. Sounds like Bautista has backed a winner.
And after next June’s draft?
“If I have a chance to play (pro) fine, if not I will focus on my studies as an electrical engineer,” Bumstead said.
So, the Blue Jays will spend the final weekend of the 2017 season at Yankee Stadium. Will it be the final three games of Jose Bautista’s career in a Toronto uniform?
“As a bystander I would love to see him back,” said Bumstead, who won’t be receiving living expenses next year. “He deserves credit for all he has done.”
Bautista wants to stay, he wants to continue to pay it forward.
You may think you know Jose Bautista.
But do you?
After all you have seen him yell at an umpire. You have seen him get knocked down by a Baltimore Oriole pitcher and in the same series take him deep. You have seen the bat flip.
He has led the majors twice in home runs.
He is probably the third best Blue Jays to ever put on a uniform out of 726 players, behind Hall of Famer Robbie Alomar and Carlos Delgado.
In all the times we have been in a clubhouse for a champagne celebration we have seen guys have one sip or beer and two chugs of champagne and slur their words. The adrenalin rush of winning is that high.
The night Edwin Encarnacion hit his walk-off home run in the wild card game against Baltimore Orioles’ Ubaldo Jimenez in 2016 it was a giddy room as the Jays hurried to make their charter plane to Dallas and the AL Division Series against the Texas Rangers. The two teams were more than mere rivals since in their last regular-season meeting Bautista slid hard into second, stood up and was popped in the nose by Rougned Odor.
Someone who has known Bautista for almost 10 years stopped him on the way to the bus.
“Hey do me a favor ... when you go down there this time don’t lead with your chin.”
Did Bautista pull an Odor and pop the joster.
Nope. He howled.
This -- helping kids get to college or university -- is the Bautista you didn’t know ... financially helping a third baseman from Calgary go to school in California.
The thing that the Blue Jays management should remember when it comes time to make the final decision on Bautista is how many free agents want to play in Toronto?
How many players want to sign here? For every Kendrys Morales, there are a Dexter Fowler, Ted Lilly, Gil Meche, Storm Davis and all the way back to Hall of Famer Goose Gossage.