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Big flies only one part of Bautista's legacy

An advocate of education for all ballplayers, slugger earned undergraduate degree in 2014

TORONTO -- Long after his playing days are over, Jose Bautista's legacy will undoubtedly be tied to a stellar baseball career that blossomed during his time with the Blue Jays. He'll be known for his three seasons (and counting) of 40-plus homers, the four times he drove in more than 100 runs and, yes, the bat flip heard 'round the world that pushed his Blue Jays into the 2015 American League Championship Series.

But Bautista the Ballplayer is just one chapter of a complex book that is, metaphorically speaking, still being written. And it tells the story of only a small part of what he has accomplished during a career that began more than a decade ago when he debuted with the Orioles in 2004.

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Sure, Bautista is a ballplayer. But he's also a college graduate, and, by extension, a multidimensional role model.

Bautista earned his undergraduate degree, after majoring in general studies with a business concentration and a minor in entrepreneurship, from the University of South Florida in May 2014 at the age of 33. From the very beginning -- when he was a junior college player at Chipola College in Marianna, Fla. -- he knew he wanted to complete his college education.

Bautista, Martin thrill Chipola College coach

But he was also driven by the wishes of his mother, who wasn't thrilled with her son's desire to pursue a career in baseball. She didn't try to stop him when it became obvious that's where he was headed, and by obtaining his degree, it was sort of a way for Bautista to meet her halfway.

"She knew it's what I wanted to do, and it was my passion," Bautista said. "When the opportunity came up, she didn't fight me on it. She wanted me to do what I loved. But I knew it was something she always wanted me to do at some point in my life."

From the fall of 2012 to the spring of '14, Bautista took classes every semester. Most were online, but he did have a few courses he was required to take in person at the university. Because the class schedule sometimes interfered with baseball season, he asked his teachers to work with him to make sure he was able to attend to both.

With a large portion of baseball season taking place during the summer, Bautista crammed a lot of school time into the offseason. Spring Training created an unavoidable overlap, but his teachers were understanding and accommodating.

"When I signed up for classes, I emailed the teachers, told them what the situation was," he said. "I'd explain that I wasn't going to be able to finish the last month or so of the class and I needed to finish it up remotely, either online or by email. They were open to it and they helped me. As long as I got the work done, the class projects done with my team, no problem."

A postgraduate degree in finance is in Bautista's future as well, but he'll likely finish that once he concludes his Major League career. That's one of just many items on his to-do list once he does retire.

Another is continuing to advocate for the Bautista Family Education Fund, which provides financial assistance for young athletes with professional aspirations to get an education.

The percentage of pro ballplayers that actually make it to the big leagues is minuscule, and the amount that get to the big leagues and stay there for a significant amount of time is even smaller. Bautista's mission through his foundation is to get young people -- mostly Latin American athletes with otherwise limited resources -- into school, perhaps through athletic scholarships, and get them educated.

That was another reason why it was important for Bautista to obtain his degree. How can he preach the importance of an education if he doesn't have one?

"If one of those kids says, 'It's too hard, I can't do it, learning English is too difficult, playing and studying is too hard,' or, 'I can't get my degree done after I signed because I have to focus on professionalism,' I can go back and say, 'Listen, it's hard, but you can get it done. I did it. It's doable.'"

Because education is the focus, 95 percent of the requirements to receive funding from the Bautista Family Education Fund surround academics. The only athletic component is the athletic scholarship, which he uses as a way to help more kids.

"Then if a coach wants that kid to be a good athlete, I really don't care," Bautista said. "I just want to make sure they get admitted to the school. For me to help more kids and impact more lives, I try to get as much scholarship covered by the school itself. That way I can spread my financial contribution amongst more kids."

His work through his foundation shows a strong business acumen that should serve him well in his post playing career, whenever that time comes.

One thing Bautista knows for sure is that once he does stop playing, he won't let too much time go by before he puts his education to use. He's already involved in several business ventures, so the only difference when he isn't playing any more is that those interests will become his full-time job.

"I don't feel like I'm close to retiring, but for sure, you always have to have that in the back of your mind," he said. "We're not going to be Major Leaguers for the rest of our lives. The other jobs, that most people have, you can work until you're 60. In baseball, we cannot.

"A hundred percent of the time you are living more years doing things other than being a professional baseball player. I always keep that in mind. This is all temporary. It's all cool and nice and I enjoy it. But it's not going to last forever."

Bautista's multilayered legacy, however, surely will.

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.
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