September 29, 2010

Guest Post: The Jose Bautista Bomb Festival

On September 17th, Jose Bautista made Toronto Blue Jays history. His 48th home run of the season cleared Fenway Park's Green Monster, and along with it went George Bell's 23-year-old team record. I was live blogging that night's Jays and Red Sox affair for The Score and, in the aftermath of Bautista's heroics, a comment by avid basketball and Toronto Raptors fan Scott Carefoot stuck with me: "How sweet was the J-Bomb? I missed it. Can't wait to watch the highlight. He might be my favourite Jay of All-Time."

It got me thinking: How many others are there? How many others have been drawn to baseball, and the Toronto Blue Jays, because of Jose Bautista's magical season? I'd found one, and I wanted to hear his story.

You know Mr. Carefoot from The Basketball Jones, and the Raptors blog that started them all, RaptorBlog. Without further adieu, here he is, a basketball head blogging about the Blue Jays, the legend that is Jose Bautista, and why he just might give a damn about this team again ...

If you know me, if you’ve read me at since 2002 or on since 2008, you know me as a diehard NBA fan, and that assessment is absolutely true. I won’t say that I live or die for the Raptors or NBA basketball, but it’s the sport I find most compelling and most entertaining. Even during the off-season, I pay more attention to what’s going on with NBA trades, free agents and mock drafts than I do to sports that are actually being played – including entire Major League Baseball seasons.

It wasn’t always this way. I used to be a baseball fan a long time ago but the passion faded. You might think the steroid era had something to do with that, but you would be mistaken. My focus shifted away from sports in general when I went to university in 1994 (the year after the Jays won their second World Series) and I actually started having real girlfriends and an active social life. Toronto got the Raptors in 1995 and I was intrigued, but that intrigue didn’t blossom into an obsession until after I graduated in 1999 and moved in with my girlfriend (now my wife). Vinsanity was in full effect and I was hooked – I never missed a Raptors game and I still don’t. Well, I won’t if I can get Sportsnet One in Oakville before November.

Over the past 15 years, the Jays didn’t give me many reasons to reignite the flame of fandom. There were some interesting players that came and went – Clemens, Delgado, Halladay – but none of them excited me like Vince Carter and the fact that the Jays appeared doomed to never again overcome the mighty Yankees and Red Sox made rooting for them seem pointless. I understand that makes me sound like a fair-weather fan, but I’m only being honest here. I really haven’t cared about the Jays that much for most of the second half of my life.

It was different when I was a kid. I was born in 1975 in Brantford, Ontario so it’s only natural that my first sports love was Brantford’s own Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers. I watched the 1983 Stanley Cup Finals with my dad and he told me that he had an obnoxious co-worker who rooted for the Islanders so we both had extra motivation to root for The Great One. Edmonton was swept that year but exacted sweet revenge over the Islanders the following year.

I guess you could say I was like any good Canadian boy in that hockey was my primary sports passion, but in the summer and fall months my attention turned to the Blue Jays. My first favorite Jay was none other than Damaso Garcia, and I’ll be damned if I can remember why I picked him. Ivan Lendl used to be my favorite tennis player and Amir Johnson is my current favorite Raptor, so I guess you could say I’ve had eclectic taste in sports idols over the years.

Those Jays in the early to mid-80s were chock-full of interesting characters – Ernie Whitt’s swing that dropped his knee to the dirt, Tony Fernandez’s poetry in motion at shortstop, the incomparable outfield of Bell, Moseby and Barfield, Damaso burning his uniform… yeah, I wasn’t so much of a Damaso fan after that. But those Jays were fun to root for and they were pretty damn good, too.

I was in SkyDome in 1991 on the day when the Jays broke the 4 million attendance mark – they handed out these shitty t-shirts to commemorate the event and I think mine disintegrated after a few washes – and they clinched the AL East division title. It remains the most exciting sporting event I’ve ever attended. The following year, the Jays won their first of back-to-back World Series and by that point every Canadian was a Jays fan. I had reached my apex as a baseball fan, and then I went off to school.

But I’m repeating myself. These days, my life is devoted to family, work and the NBA. The Jays were expected by most objective baseball fans (you know, the ones who don’t use multiple exclamation points when describing a particular team) to be a shitshow this year in their first post-Halladay season. I fully expected all of my sports attention to be directed towards LeBron James, Chris Bosh and the three-ring circus of this summer’s NBA free agency period. That certainly didn’t disappoint in terms of drama, although the climax left a bitter taste in my mouth, to say the least.

I’m not sure exactly when I started to pay attention to The Jose Bautista Bomb Festival this season, but I have no doubt that Mr. Vaswani – as the Jays’ best hype-man – played a role in bringing it to my attention. Who the hell was this guy? Where did he come from? What kind of steroids was he on? I didn’t know the answers to these questions and I didn’t much care. It was kind of fun to see a Blue Jay on top of the American League home run standings again. Jealous fans and certain idiot columnists protested that Bautista was surely hopped up on goofballs of some sort, but fuck ‘em. Haters gonna hate, right?

As the baseball season drew on, “Bautista-watch 2010” turned from fun to surreal. Was this guy really going to hit 40 home runs? Was he actually going to break George Bell’s team record? Holy shit – is he going to hit 50 dingers? Yep, yep, and you’re damn right.

And so here I am, by request, writing about how the Jays seem relevant to me again because of the magical season of Jose Bautista. Thanks to him, I’m now aware of the Jays’ promising young pitching staff and of the distinctive sound the ball makes coming off Travis Snider’s bat. I’m still not convinced they’ll ever be able to make the playoffs while they’re stuck in the same division as the Yankees, Red Sox and now the freakin’ Rays! But as I’m sure Navin will agree, the fact that the odds are so stacked against them will make it that much sweeter on that fateful day when I’ll sign into my Twitter account specifically to type “RT @eyebleaf PLAYOFFS!!!!!!!!!!11111”

Image courtesy of Getty Images via daylife.


William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Great post (except for the swearing). I think the Jays will finish ahead of the Bay Rays next year. This will be that team's last hurrah as they will cut payroll by $30 million in the off season. Good by Crawford, Pena (no big loss there), Soria and all of their other relief pitchers.

I think the Blue Jays will compete next year because they will lose very few of their core players and Snider will have a full season to mash. Plus a new manager could give them even more of a spark.

Ian - BJH said...

Nice guest post, Scott! That's what I especially love about Bautista's season: he's drawing people in that otherwise wouldn't be watching the Jays this year.

It reminds me of the home run chase of 1998 between Sosa and McGwire.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ian. Was anyone else an Ivan Lendl fan back in the day? I seriously can't remember why I rooted for that guy, I just know I always felt bad for him that he never won Wimbledon.


Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

@ William: I'm not so quick to dismiss the Rays, even after they inevitably lose Pena and Crawford. They've got great pitching, and guys in their system to come and replace those that are leaving. I think one of them is already up, that Jennings kid. The Blue Jays will be good, but so will the Rays. Maybe Tampa won't compete for the division, and will be more along the likes of the Jays; 85 wins and such. The only thing we know for certain about next season is that the Baltimore OrioLOLes will, as is always the case, be a terrible, terrible baseball team. And you have to admit, William, I've done a good job of toning down the fucking swearing around here.

@ Ian: It reminds me of the home run chase of 1998 between Sosa and McGwire.

Except for the whole, you know, steroids thing. Hopefully.

@ Scott: Thanks again for doing this, mate. I think you enjoyed writing it, which makes it nails. And, you know, I never knew about Damaso Garcia burning his Jays jersey until you mentioned it, and I subsequently Googled it. The hell was that cat thinking? Absurd. As for Lendl, when he was dominating in the early 80s, I had yet to discover tennis. By the time I did, Lendl was near retirement, and I was all about Pistol Pete Sampras. I hated Agassi. And Jim Courier. Sampras was my guy. Anyway, I checked the always trustworthy Wikipedia, and Lendl accumulated over $20 million in earnings over his career. For some reason, that was more than I thought, especially considering the era he played in. And you're right, it's a shame he didn't ever win at Wimbledon. A great like him deserved the Career Grand Slam. It's one of the reasons I actually rooted for Rafa Nadal at the US Open this year. And I usually can't stand that trophy-biting Spaniard.

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Yes, Navin, your mom must be reading more often [[puckish grin]]

Anonymous said...

I was born in Toronto and inherited all of my teams at birth but the only game I played as a kid that is represented by a major league team in this town is baseball. I think all kids play baseball right? Or, some version of it anyway. I loved it then and I of course loved watching the Jays win the consecutive World Series and then, like Scott, I moved on. But, the sports you play as a kid stick with you in a way that no other sports do. I'm falling in love with baseball again for many reasons but in large part due to Mr. Bautista, his handsome beard and lethal bat. I went to five games this year after a decade hiatus and the Jays one 4 of them. Good times, good times.

Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

Helluva comment, Anon. Good times, indeed.