Jose Bautista and the bat flip heard 'round the world

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Image: TSN / Twitter

I am not a Blue Jays fan.

I will admit, I enjoy the fact that so many people are happy about the the team. I am pleased Toronto fans are getting some sporting joy in their lives. I know some fans in Canadian hockey markets can be insufferable (Vancouver included) so I tend to always hope other Canadian clubs fail in the worst way possible.

But Toronto hasn’t had many successes in the sporting world lately (It was 4-1!), and it’s baseball, so if any team has to win the World Series, why not be the Canadian team?

So when I watched game 5 between the Rangers and the Blue Jays, I wanted Toronto to win, but it wasn’t going to ruin my day if they didn’t. Toronto wins, good for them! Toronto loses, I can file it away in another thing to make fun of them about.

Then the 7th inning rolled around. Then a ball being thrown to the pitcher bounced off of a bat. Then “sports” happened.

Before I knew it, I was screaming at the ump. I was screaming at the TV. I was calling people up and explaining to them the travesty I just saw.

“NO, YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND, THE UMP CALLED THE PLAY DEAD. THAT WAS GARBAGE. Mom, I don’t know why you’re not getting this.”

Not because I wanted the Jays to win mind you, but just because I hated the idea of a team losing on such a stupid play. It didn’t feel like the spirit of the game was being adhered to. Due to this, I found myself emotionally invested in the outcome of this series. Now I wanted Toronto to win out of some weird sense of sports justice. It was like all of the times the Canucks had lost in a big game, flashed through my head at once, and now I wanted, nay, NEEDED Toronto to win, so I could regain some trust in sports. So I could go back to believing the Canucks one day might somehow avoid the cruel taunts from the Hockey Gods, and win the Cup.

You see, sports can be a cruel mistress at the best of times. You have an idea of how sports should work, about how your heroes will rise to conquer the evil forces, yet it rarely happens that way. For every “slaying of the dragon” there seems to be three Lafayette posts waiting just around the corner.

in 1994, the Canucks had a team that was supposed to win. Sure, New York had the better team, but Vancouver? Vancouver had destiny on their side, man. Coming back against the Flames after being down 3-1? Real good. Bure elbowing his way past Dallas? Even better. Burying the Maple Leafs and closing the series out in OT? Glorious. Being down 3-1 in the Finals, well hell, what better way for the scrappy underdog team to win then by clawing their way out of another hole? It was meant to be!

Yet at the end, there was Mark Messier, dry humping the Stanley Cup, laughing like he just stole your prom date. Instead of Trevor Linden hosting the Cup and dedicating the win to a young me, it was Mark Messier and Gary Bettman teaming up to crush my dreams.

It didn’t make sense that the Canucks lost. It didn’t fit the Hollywood ending in my head. It often doesn’t make sense when a big time player can’t come through in the clutch. But that is what makes sports so beautiful, when everything does line up in your favor.

Imagine a world in which your team wins every year. Imagine you’re the Montreal Canadiens in the 70’s, and you’re trading a six pack of Molson for Guy Lafleur, and claiming owernship of anyone that kind of sounds like they have a french name. “Lester Smith? Les is French, we own you now.”

So you win Cup after Cup and establish a dynasty. Sure, it’s awesome to win, but there is something beautiful about the right mixture of losing and winning. The losing makes you appreciate the wins even more.

Which takes us back to the Blue Jays game. It’s the bottom of the seventh inning, and the Blue Jays have to find a way to get back into the game. Toronto looked to be on the brink of another “Toronto” moment. You could almost picture Kerry Fraser dressed up like Obi-Wan Kenobi, watching from the stands, nodding sagely as Toronto goes on to lose the game. Followed up by missing someone getting sticked in the face.

But then something strange happened. Suddenly, the Texas Rangers began dropping balls like Pete Rose had money on the game. Before you know it the bases are loaded. Mere moments later, the game is tied. Then Joey Bautista steps up to the plate with two men on.

Again, I am not a Blue Jays guy (Go Red Sox!), but I can respect a franchises marquee player getting a big stage to perform on. Yes, Donaldson was hot fire this year, but Joey Bats has put his time in Toronto. He marked the start of a new belief of “maybe we can win this thing one day.” many years ago. He had been there through the hard times, and now he was stepping up to be the hero. It was such an amazing sporting sequence because you got to see what would happen in the biggest moment of one of the best Blue Jays of all time.

It’s why people wanted to see Gretzky have a turn in the shootout in the ’98 Olympics. Sure, he wasn’t that great at breakaways once goalies figured out the secret of wearing actual goalie pads, but sometimes you want to get lost in the romance of the sport.

Part of me watched Bautista’s at bat thinking he would hit a shallow pop fly. But there was a less cynical part of me that watched and thought “No way, this guy is a hero, he’s going to do this.” That’s the part that always brings me back to sports, no matter how cynical I get.

Then he swung. Then I screamed with glee.

He came through with one of the most iconic Blue Jays home runs of all time. Then he did the bat flip.

bats

That right there was pure emotion. That was a man who had waited his whole life for this moment, coming through just like he always dreamed he would. Just like fans always dreamed he would. That was a man who saw a greasy loss coming his way, who saw years of sporting failure in the city of Toronto bearing down on him, inviting him to join the party. Yet he fought it off and turned things around. Needless to say, he was probably a little bit excited.

That is a perfect sporting moment. This is why I watch sports.

He isn’t pulling a cell phone out of his shoe and making a call while he walks the base path. He isn’t calling his team mates out to go through a 3 minute dance routine they perfected just in case this situation came up. He’s just living in the moment.

Which is why I find it funny that people are actually getting mad about the bat toss. Some people are upset and felt it was too cocky. That is was “not showing respect” for the game. One guy even suggested Bautista threw the bat at the Rangers dugout.

To those people, I say enjoy it for what it was. Either enjoy the fact a guy came through in the clutch, or admit the fact that this guy made you so mad that you can’t wait to watch and see if he’ll fail in his next big moment. Don’t try and shoehorn it into some bigger issue, don’t try and bring “it’s about the ethics of baseball” into it.

Think about it this way, while you’re sitting there getting angry about Bautista throwing his bat, think about a little kid racing out onto the field today, asking his/her dad to toss them some pitches so they can “Hit it like Joey Bats.” Watch as kids around baseball parks crank a home run and do a high arcing bat toss, triumphantly proclaiming “BAUTISTA!” There are far better things in the world to get morally angry over than a sports celebration. (If you’re a Rangers fan, or are just sick of the Jays, by all means get super sports angry over it, that is your right. Just don’t moralize it.)

Look at this:

Isn’t that what sports is all about? The kid didn’t stop celebrating to think “Hrm, I think Joey went too far there.” The parents didn’t stop him from celebrating and go “OK, that was a good home run, but let’s discuss how he took his celebration to far.”

It was an iconic moment, and we all got to witness it. Whatever side of the fandom you’re on, you just saw a big moment in baseball history. Enjoy the fact you saw one of the craziest games you’ll ever see, regardless of which sport you enjoy most.

Look, remember the 1994 Canucks? Remember this god damn guy I mentioned?

I hate that picture. Just hate it. It brings up terrible memories of the Rangers beating the Canucks. Of Messier running Linden over by the bench. Of the Canucks scattered on the ice, some of them openly weeping.

But I don’t bemoan Messier cackling with glee and pumping the Cup up and down. I have never once said “You know what Mark, you didn’t respect the game that night. You should have graciously accepted the Cup, then covered it in a towel, then led the crowd in a prayer.”

No, he won the god damn Cup. That was one of the highlights of his career. Enjoy the hell out of it.

You bald sack of garbage.

The point is, sports needs heroes and it needs villains. That’s what makes the game so interesting. So when you find yourself getting morally outraged over celebrations or in game acts or whatnot, just try remember this should be about sports. Hate players all you want. I heartily encourage that. There is a lot of fun to be had booing a guy and actively cheering anytime they lose. Talking with friends bitterly about big sports losses is a rite of passage for any sports fan.

Just don’t try and talk about “respect for the game” or any of that other nonsense. This is sports. It’s just a game at the end of the day, so enjoy it for what it is.

It was a god damn bat flip, and it was awesome.

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Wyatt Arndt Wyatt Arndt is a freelance writer who currently writes for The Province, Canucks Army, Canucks.com and Vancity Buzz. He's probably written in bathroom stalls near you as well. You can find him on Twitter where he is most likely making fun of Eddie Lack's goalie mask.
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