I hadn’t been to a major league baseball game in almost two years and so with Blue Jay tickets in hand and the chance to see Roy Halladay in person, I hopped on the train and made the four and one half hour trip to the Rogers Center.
The weather was perfect, (July1-3), the crowds were loud and noisy and the games certainly didn’t disappoint. Either team could have swept all three but the Philadelphia Phillies won two. Their only loss was on the Sunday after Cliff Lee uncharacteristically fell apart late in the game and surrendered three homeruns in the eighth inning.
Apart from the welcome home Roy Halladay celebrations, (even when Halladay beat the Jays the home crowd still gave him another standing ovation at the conclusion of the game much to the chagrin of the local media), the real and continuing story was/is the impossible if I didn’t see it myself season and one half of top American League all-star vote getter Jose Bautista.
This past offseason I was one of those writers who wrote off his amazing 2010 season as a steroid induced fluke. I chastised the Toronto management for signing Bautista to a multiyear big money deal.
Couldn’t they see that 2010 was a fluke on the level of Brady Anderson?
Won’t these GMs ever learn? Players such as Bautista always come crashing back down to earth. Pitchers will figure them out and without steroids they will go quietly back to the mediocrity of seasons past.
I was wrong. Jose Bautista is the real deal. Whether playing right field or third base, his defense is superb and his attitude is one of team first, second and third. When asked to move back to third base he did so without hesitation. He is the team leader.
But it’s his bat.
It impressed, amazed and astonished me and it wasn’t simply a player having one of those hot weekends where everything goes better than perfect. Even his outs were very hard hit balls which the fielders looked reluctant to get in front of. He seemed at times to be toying with the opposing pitcher. He went deep and quick against Halladay and Cliff Lee. He seemed to seek out the big situations, the game on the line situations. He delivered time after time with a big homerun to tie the game or put his team ahead. The sound of the ball off of his bat was one that few players can produce. The ball exploded. The ball was gone over the fence, almost too quickly and too far, almost impossible to follow.
There was electricity in the park when he stepped onto the on deck circle. I had to stop whatever else I was thinking of doing (beer, hot dog, chatting with the fans beside me), and an incredible anticipatory hardly dare to breath silence fell on the park when he stepped into the batter’s box. We knew something big was about to happen. The ballpark was waiting to explode. When it did, we stood there and shook our heads, Blue Jay and Phillies fans alike. How could a player do this again and again and again?
I’ve heard rumors that Bautista changed his stance and approach at the plate a couple of years ago. I’ve heard that all he needed was regular playing time. I’ve heard that some players mature later in their careers. I really have no idea if any or all of these stories are true but I do know what I saw even if I still can’t quite believe it.
Bautista has claimed in interviews that his development of a leg kick was the key. It vastly improved his timing and allowed him to start his swing earlier but keep his body back allowing the bat to explode into the zone when he swings. He also claims that this allows him to see the ball much better.
This season the incredible power has remained and his batting average has climbed some 60 points. He has learned to take what they give him or do what the situation asks for. If the pitches are not there, a two run single will do just fine. Of course, he is beginning to be pitched around or simply walked at a greater frequency as more and more opposing pitchers and managers are coming to realize what I did on that weekend.
Bautista is no fluke. He is the most powerful hitter in baseball. Count me in.