TORONTO -- Jose Bautista will go down as one of the best players to ever wear a Blue Jays uniform. He was responsible for one of the top moments in franchise history, and he was the driving force behind Toronto ending a 22-year drought in the postseason. In the Blue
TORONTO -- Jose Bautista will go down as one of the best players to ever wear a Blue Jays uniform. He was responsible for one of the top moments in franchise history, and he was the driving force behind Toronto ending a 22-year drought in the postseason. In the Blue Jays' 8-6 win over the Mets on Tuesday night at Rogers Centre, it was time for the fans to say thank you for all of that, and so much more.
Bautista received a hero's welcome upon his return to the city he called home for more than 10 years. There was a standing ovation during batting practice and another when he was announced as part of the Mets' starting lineup, but perhaps the loudest cheers of all were saved for when he stepped into the batter's box in the first inning.
The 37-year-old might have been born in the Dominican Republic, but it's clear that Canada became his home away from home. Bautista's accolades in a Blue Jays uniform are staggering: a six-time All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger Award winner, a two-time Hank Aaron Award winner and the only Blue Jays player to ever hit 50 home runs in one season. There was a lot to be thankful for on both sides, and it all came pouring out in an emotional day that could have been simply dubbed "The Return."
"It feels great, it feels like nothing has changed," Bautista said before the game. "It's a good feeling to be back. Obviously, a lot of emotions and a lot of memories. You like to be able to enjoy those. It has been great so far."
Before the game, the Blue Jays celebrated the occasion by playing some of the top moments from his career on the video board. There was the Canada Day home run off Roy Halladay, the countless battles with the Orioles and reliever Darren O'Day, the Home Run Derby, the walkoffs and, of course, The Bat Flip, which became Bautista's signature moment and inspired a new generation of Canadian baseball fans.
The video tribute played while Bautista was on the field stretching prior to the game. When it finished, Bautista removed his cap and pointed to every section of the stadium. Bautista was always known for his fiery temper, so his emotions have been on display plenty of times before, but not quite like this. He appeared to be fighting back tears, his eyes reddened, while acknowleging the fanbase he spent most of his career representing. A soft side from the man who also presented such a hardened front.
When Bautista stepped into the batter's box a few minutes later, Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin gave him a pat on the backside and made the classy decision to step in front of the plate to cause a brief delay in the game. This gave the fans another opportunity to honor their former star and another chance for Bautista to soak all of it in. The outfielder stayed true to form, earning the first of three walks on the evening, finishing 1-for-2.
It was a similar feeling to late last year, when Bautista played his final game for the Blue Jays and was removed midway through an inning so that fans could pay their respects.
"I wasn't expecting what happened in the last game," Bautista said. "So, that still caught me by surprise. Those kinds of things, you get to enjoy them after [you retire] as a player. I don't think in the moment, that you're so caught up in it, it's something that you don't get to experience all that often. So, I don't think you're prepared for it. You kind of deal with it, and kind of think about it afterwards, and try to enjoy it like that. I enjoyed every second, I'm not complaining at all."
Bautista also cleared the air once and for all about not having any hard feelings about his departure from the franchise he helped put back on the map. Toronto's front office quietly informed him last September that his mutual option for the 2018 season would not be picked up. After all Bautista did for this franchise, very few people would have blamed him if he held a little bit of resentment towards the club for not allowing the partnership to continue.
"No, I can't say that I was angry," Bautista said. "It was a business decision, and an understandable one. I'm not naive or selfish enough to believe they shouldn't have done that. Numbers speak for themselves, and it wasn't my best year, I think that's no secret. I received an opportunity [with the Mets], and here I am, looking to make the best of it. I'm not trying to dwell on the past and let any of that drive me now. I feel like I can find enough drive just in my desire to continue playing the game and help my team win."
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.