The difference

Jose Bautista on the Blue Jays, in late July: a team on the cusp

When a man speaks about a changed essence, it is difficult to be more than vague.

Jose Bautista, in the middle of the summer, spoke of a changed essence.

We’ve watched the words, the idea, crystallize in many moments in the months since, none more beautiful, striking, and unforgettable than on Wednesday in the bottom of the seventh.

Back in the summer: it was Noon on Saturday, July 25. I was in Seattle, at Safeco Field, down in the city from Vancouver, to write about the Toronto Blue Jays. The team was a disappointing 49-49, in the days ahead of the trade deadline. I had been a sports reporter at The Globe and Mail for three years, after a dozen writing about business, and had not previously written about Major League Baseball. I loved the game as a boy, playing, watching, poring over history and statistics.

I chatted with various players in the hours before the early-afternoon game and had a couple times tried to tap Bautista for a quick interview. He twice politely put me off, saying yes, but later. Around Noon, I was in the dugout watching batting practice. Josh Donaldson was sitting nearby with a boy — it looked like a make-a-wish thing — and Bautista, passing by me, asked to borrow my pen and joined them. They signed baseballs. The boy was delighted.

Bautista and I then sat on the steps behind the dugout that led back to the locker room. The full story I wrote on the Jays that weekend is here. Bautista the night before had hit his 224th home run as a Blue Jay, to take solo possession of No. 2 spot on the Jays’s all-time list, but the Jays lost. They won Saturday — capped by a dominating Roberto Osuna save, at that point only his fifth save — and they lost Sunday, to leave the team stuck at 50–50.

Manager John Gibbons and I had spoken earlier on Saturday. “This year, for some reason, has a totally different feel,” Gibbons told me. “I don’t know how I can explain that. It’s a better team. That’s definitely a part of it. But we’ve got to do something, we’ve got to do something quick.”

The change in feeling, a new essence, was my main question for Bautista.

His full answer, over the course of a couple answers:

I agree. It’s a different feeling, it’s a different attitude. Even though the results might not reflect that right now, we can all tell the difference. What that means about the rest of the season, who knows, but if I’m a betting man — which I’m not (he chuckled haltingly) — I would think that it’s going to be much different than it was last year for the last two months of the season.

That being said, I’m not putting guys last year down, I’m praising the guys this year. Having that attitude of, you know what, I’m pissed off when I don’t win. I won’t take losing lightly. It’s refreshing to see. The determination and the hard work and the ethic and the preparation that goes into every game is much different than in the past. I appreciate seeing how much guys care. When you put a group of guys like that together that are talented, it’s easier to come out here every day and enjoy it. And it’s also easier to get the results. We haven’t got those results yet.


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