Blue Jays: Not exactly a storybook ending for Bautista

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 23: Fans show their appreciation for Jose Bautista
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 23: Fans show their appreciation for Jose Bautista /

Although the Blue Jays and their fans did their best to give Jose Bautista a meaningful send off, it was a good illustration that not every tale has a storybook ending.

The Blue Jays have closed the book on another season worth of home games, and they have a lot to thank their fan base for. Despite a very rough season in the standings, the Rogers Centre hosted more home fans than any team not named the New York Yankees.

While the last home game of the season generally draws a solid number of fans, there were additional reasons for the 47,394 to be in attendance on Sunday. It is widely expected that this was Jose Bautista‘s last home game as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, as his one year contract expires after another half dozen games. It does contain an option, but after the struggles he’s faced this year it’s a near certainty that the Blue Jays will move on from their aging franchise icon.

This stuff happens in major sports, but that doesn’t make it any easier when it does. Bautista has been a fan favourite in Toronto for a decade now, and transformed from barely holding down a big league job, to winning back to back home run titles in the American League, and setting all kinds of Blue Jays’ franchise records in the process. He was with the club through thick and thin, starring on the team when they had few other assets, and coming through with iconic moments when the team was finally ready to qualify for the postseason.

When players like this reach the end of their careers, it often becomes a near circus of fan appreciation and farewell ceremonies. We saw it with Derek Jeter and the Yankees a few years ago, and David Ortiz of the Red Sox went through something similar last season. Those two represented their franchises on an iconic level, and that type of respect was warranted, even if it got to be a bit much at times.

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Which is why there is an extra layer of disappointment with the way that Bautista’s career in Toronto is coming to an end. The 36 year old isn’t going out the way he wanted, nor how the fans, his teammates, or the front office had hoped for. Even in a year of team disappointment, this would be an easier pill to swallow if Bautista had performed well personally, but instead it’s been the worst year of his career. Instead of the mighty slugger leaving for greener pastures (financially anyway), he’s being shown the door because he’s simply not wanted in Toronto anymore, and that makes me sad.

Even as he was receiving standing ovations and emotional displays of affection from the Toronto faithful, you could see and hear the torn feelings for the Dominican slugger. When doing a post game interview with Sportsnet’s Hazel Mae, he openly admitted that the relationship with the Jays would continue if it were up to him.

Even though it hasn’t been publicly stated that he won’t return, it’s been the worst kept secret in baseball for the last few months, and the fans and even the media have been preparing for Sunday’s game, and his final game later this week. While everyone has had good intentions with honouring the team’s longest tenured player, it still feels a little bit insulting when he has an option on his contract, and intends to continue his career.

Which is unfortunate, because he’s meant a great deal to the franchise for a long time, and I hope the way things came to an end won’t leave any sort of bitter taste in Bautista’s mouth. He’s been heavily criticized by the fan base this year, but as the end of the season approached and we all realized that this is actually it for “Joey Bats”, I’m glad to see the appreciation overtake the negativity. I really do hope that’s what he carries with him into the next chapter of his career and his life, because he’s meant a great deal to the fans in Canada, including yours truly.

It’s a shame things didn’t end a little better, but like a no hitter that’s broken up on the 27th out, sometimes that happens in baseball. Fortunately, we’ll always have the bat flip, and many more iconic moments to recall when needed. Thanks for the memories, Mr. Bautista.

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