Sports Baseball

SIMMONS

Fans, teammates show Joey Bats the love

By Steve Simmons, Toronto Sun

Toronto - 

There was one more moment to remember, one final standing ovation for Jose Bautista that didn’t seem to end.

It was the perfect finale at home to a most imperfect baseball season. Partially scripted, partially improvised, there was a wave to the fans, a tip of the cap, his hands together in applause. A crowd of 47,394, the 17th sellout of this horrible season, standing in the ninth inning, chanting his name: Jose ... Jose, Jose, Jose, sounding like Ole ... Ole, Ole, Ole.

There was one out in the top of the ninth inning when manager John Gibbons sent Zeke Carrera out to play right field. That was the plan, although Gibbons didn’t share it with anyone. He wanted to provide Bautista with the right kind of curtain call, his own encore moment for this baseball concert of love and appreciation. Bautista didn’t know it was coming, just as he didn’t know he would head out to the field by himself to start the game, his Blue Jays teammates holding back just long enough to give him the stage to himself.

He didn’t want all the attention but he admitted afterwards he was happy to feel it one more time.

“I appreciate everything that happened today,” said Bautista after the Jays’ 9-5 win over the Yankees.

He will come to appreciate this more as the years move on. It’s sometimes takes a little perspective to understand. These kind of days don’t come around often. Most players don’t get this kind of ending — five times to the plate and as many standing ovations, two hits and a walk, the kind of ending that belies the statistically challenged season he is about to complete.

On his jog out of right field for the final time at the Rogers Centre, when Gibbons pulled him in the ninth, Bautista stopped at almost every teammate. He shook hands, said a few words, admitted his mind was racing, said all of it was “kind of a blur to me. I kind of enjoyed it.”

It was impossible not to enjoy.

He started with centre fielder, Kevin Pillar — who idolizes Bautista, and was the first to greet him in the baseball version of a reception line — and ended at third base, where he and Josh Donaldson turned a handshake into a long, full, emotional hug. The past and the future together for one last embrace. The best and what used to be the best. Throughout the stadium, and probably out there in TV land, eyes were welling up.

This is the end of an era. Last year, Edwin Encarnacion moved on. This year, it will certainly be Bautista’s time. Combined, they were the accidental superstars — also-rans before coming to Toronto, Hall of Fame-like with their bats and big moments as Blue Jays.

And no one was ever bigger than Bautista, in presence, in attitude, in performance, in every conceivable way. There have been other great Jays players over the past 41 seasons. Robbie Alomar is in the Hall of Fame. Maybe Dave Stieb should be there, too. Carlos Delgado has magnificent numbers. But Alomar aside, and the Ed Sprague and Joe Carter franchise-changing home runs aside, Bautista was his own modern day story waiting to be written, supplying a decade worth of unforgettable moments for a team that has grown from just being there to a ratings and attendance dynamo.

The Blue Jays became a product and a business and a television show in Bautista’s years and if you give appreciative Toronto a show, the people here will love you forever. They didn’t tire of the numerous ovations Sunday afternoon. Each one seemed a little louder, a little longer, the final goodbye in the ninth had the building shaking and Bautista shaken.

“I had a lot of feelings,” said Bautista. “I had to narrow them down. A lot of things go through your head.”

“He did a good job of hiding (his emotions),” said Marcus Stroman, the winning pitcher and a Bautista disciple. “He wants to be here the rest of his career ... I hope he’s back. I hope this isn’t the last home game.”

Players say those kind of things. Management knows better. There can be no next year for Bautista here. His time was long and wonderful but it has run its course. His two hits Sunday broke an 0-for-18 slump in a season full of slumps. He was 2-for-4, raising his batting average to .203. Those kind of numbers don’t usually come with contract extensions.

Bautista talks about coming back, saying it’s a possibility. Old athletes always say those kind of things. Most don’t get a final chance to wave goodbye, to take a victory lap, to share it with their fans. That made Sunday’s game — an event, really — one to store in the memory books with all the other great emotional Bautista moments.

There was no bat flip, and no real anger. There was a wave to the crowd and his own applause. They were cheering him. He was cheering them as he made his way to the dugout, his last time as a Blue Jay at home. One more high-five. Another plane to catch.

ssimmons@postmedia.com

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