Jose Bautista: Getting in the Swing

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By Dale Sproule

Following in the footsteps of George Bell and Tony Fernandez – two earlier Toronto Blue Jays superstars from the Dominican Republic – Jose Bautista is getting ready to lead the only Canadian team in Major League baseball back to the championships.

In 2011, Bautista, who is known fondly as “Joey Bats”, narrowly missed being selected as the American League’s MVP – although he did win a second straight Hank Aaron Award as the best hitter in the American League.

After barely scraping into the major leagues in the 20th round of the amateur draft in the year 2000, Bautista saw more than half a dozen teams give up on him over the next 10 years without really giving him much chance to play. On the odd occasion when he did get an opportunity to show what he could do, he thinks maybe he was trying too hard.

As a newcomer to Canada, you may find Bautista’s situation a little too familiar. You know you can do the job, if only someone will take a chance on you. And when you finally get an interview, you are too intense and nervous to make the good impression you so desperately want to make. If you can convince someone to take a chance on you, you’re sure you can find your sweet spot and become a valuable employee, maybe even a superstar like Joey Bats.

Bautista was making steady progress in the year or two before he joined the Blue Jays, but was still considered just a utility player. For him, success came literally like a bolt from the blue. He had been working hard with Blue Jays batting coach Dwayne Murphy to change his batting mechanics. Bautista was always blessed with a very fast swing, so he tended to wait too long before making a decision to swing at the ball. Coach Murphy wanted him to start his swing earlier, and adjusted his stance to give him more control. It still wasn’t working, but the coaches had nothing but praise for Bautista’s willingness to learn.

On September 10th, 2009 (according to a feature story from Sports Illustrated) Bautista was sitting in the clubhouse before the game with teammate Vernon Wells, who suggested that Jose start his swing even earlier – ridiculously early. Thinking it was worth a try, Bautista went up to bat in the second inning and, as he said, it felt like he started his swing before the pitcher even released the ball. But to his surprise, it was a solid hit – a double – and later in the game, using the same technique, he got a home run.

Up to that point in his career, he was struggling just to remain in the major leagues. But that single stroke of genius changed his fortunes completely. Since then, he has become a superstar.

Sometimes, a very small change or a lucky bit of timing can be all it takes to turn frustration into triumph.

In 2010, Jose Bautista was the first Toronto Blue Jay to make the 50-Home-Run-Club, alongside such legendary ball players as Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle. In 2011, the 31-year-old led the league in four hitting categories including home runs (43), walks (132), slugging percentage (.608) and on-base plus slugging (1.056).

Many sports writers believe he deserved to win the MVP, but finished third largely because he was playing for the Toronto Blue Jays – who failed to make the playoffs, despite Bautista’s impressive contribution. But there is no doubt Bautista has brought excitement back to the Rogers Centre – and re-ignited enthusiasm for the Toronto Blue Jays and for baseball in Canada.

People have been suspicious and have speculated that he’s somehow cheating, but that is clearly not the case. In that Sports Illustrated story, Bautista explained, “What I’ve done is a product of dedication, being given a chance to succeed and the change to my approach. I have never taken steroids or anything like that. I know what kind of person I am.”

His coaches talk of his drive, his natural leadership, his dedication. But his most important quality was his perseverance. He kept trying and kept learning. He believed in himself, even when nobody else did. And he succeeded – against all odds and beyond his wildest dreams.

So when your job search or any other aspect of your settlement process isn’t going as well as you’d hoped, and you need a little inspiration, think of Jose Bautista. Keep working, keep an open mind and keep believing in yourself. You know what kind of person you are. As long as you keep working hard, you know that success is just a matter of time and opportunity.

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