Say the words “bat flip” to any Toronto resident and the first thing that probably comes mind is Jose Bautista.
Believe it or not, Wednesday marks five years since the former Toronto Blue Jay star made his way to home plate and delivered one of the most iconic moments in Canadian sports history.
“I tried to keep it simple,” Bautista said modestly while speaking to CP24.
For those who didn’t watch the game on Oct. 14 2015, the pressure and anticipation leading up to the historic moment cannot be overstated.
It was a do-or-die Game 5 of the American League Division Series and the Texas Rangers were tied with the Jays 2-2 going into the seventh inning.
In between plays, Jays’ catcher Russel Martin would throw the ball to pitcher Aaron Sanchez and accidentally hit Ranger Shin-Soo Choo’s bat in the process. Rougned Odor, who was on third, would capitalize on the mistake and score to lead the Jays 3-2.
There was a general feeling of hopelessness that would fall upon the Rogers Centre, as well as bars and living rooms across the country.
At the bottom of the seventh and after a number of delays, the Jays would be back at-bat and witness a number of errors by their Texas opponents. Josh Donaldson would later drive in a run and tie the game. Two Blue Jays remained on first and third base.
Cue Jose Bautista.
“I was trying to calm myself down with a little breathing. Just focus on the task at hand,” he said.
“It was a little bit easier for me that the pitcher on the mound didn’t have a huge repertoire of pitches and I knew how he liked to attack guys,” Bautista said, speaking of Rangers relief pitcher Sam Dyson.
“So I just zeroed in on a zone in the strike zone and I was able to get the pitch that I could hit.”
Bautista would end up hitting a three-run home run, ousting the Rangers in the process. And then, with a flip of his bat, the Dominican Republic-born slugger cemented himself as a national sports hero.
“I get chills every time, it’s a moment that I’ll never forget,” he said. “I’m glad I was able to bring a smile and some joy to everybody on that day.”
“It was a huge moment in playoff history for the Jays, since we hadn’t been in the playoffs in 22 years at that point.”
Described as the bat flip heard around the world, the home run celebration was not without criticism. Members of the Texas Rangers would call the move unsportsmanlike, with others saying that Bautista needed to “respect” the game more.
Five years later, Bautista said he sees “both sides” of the reaction, but tries to focus on the positives.
“Since then everything has changed. I don’t know if what I did was what kind of broke that barrier down, a lot of people say that, I’ll have to take their word for it,” he said.
Former Jays Pitcher Marcus Stroman agrees and voiced his support in a tweet published Wednesday.
“Players bat-flipping on broken bat singles in the first inning nowadays,” Stroman said. “Lol I still wish he would have thrown the bat much further! LEGEND. HAPPY JOEY BATS DAY!”
Though “Joey Bats” has since moved on from the Blue Jays, he said he’s proud of the legacy he’s left behind, both in baseball and bat flips.
“I’m just happy that it’s been a while that everybody is looking at the positive side now and that people get to enjoy and celebrate home runs and let fans be a part of that as well.”